THE UNTOLD STORY OF
EMMETT LOUIS TILL
A Till Freedom Come Production
A Film by Keith Beauchamp
CAST AND CREW
ABOUT THE FILM
THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL is a documentary investigating the murder and subsequent injustice surrounding Emmett Louis Till’s death. Many consider this case to be the true catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement.
In August 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley of Chicago sent her only child, 14-year old Emmett Louis Till, to visit relatives in the Mississippi Delta. Little did she know that 8 days later, Emmett would be abducted from his Great-Uncle’s home, brutally beaten and murdered for one of the oldest Southern taboos: addressing a white woman in public. The murderers were soon arrested but later acquitted of murder by an all-white, all-male jury.
However, Emmett did not die in vain. His horrific, senseless death sparked national media attention when his mother insisted on having an open casket funeral. Her decision was controversial but her reason was simple: “I want the world to see what they did to my son.”
Till’s death sparked the Black Resistance of the South which later became known as the American Civil Rights Movement. Scholars and historians have studied the murder of Emmett Till ever since, and the case has even made its way through African-American folklore.
Even after five decades, people continue to be fascinated and troubled by the murder of Till. Many books have been written revealing the incongruous facts surrounding the influential case and controversial jury decision.
But…the true story had never been revealed.
Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp has produced a documentary unfolding a drama that has haunted society for the last 50 years. He reveals the end product of nine years of research and investigation, hoping to finally bringing justice to a family and a nation’s agony. The true story is being told for the first time, redefining the way we think and feel about the American Civil Rights Movement.
Unlike any other work produced on the Till case, THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL reveals unprecedented accounts by first-hand eyewitnesses, many of whom are speaking out for the first time. This documentary is an historical and investigative journey aimed to inform and educate all walks of life.
On May 10, 2004, the United States Justice Department reopened the investigation into the murder of Emmett Louis Till, citing Beauchamp’s film as the main impetus and starting point for their investigation.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
In 1955, in the sleepy Southern town of Money, Mississippi, Emmett Louis Till, a bright and friendly fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago, incurred the wrath of local racists when he allegedly whistled at an attractive white woman. To teach the impertinent young African-American a lesson, two angry bigots kidnapped him from his grandfather’s house, subjected him to unimaginable tortures, murdered him, and tossed his mutilated body into the Tallahatchie river. His assailants assumed their victim would remain buried and forgotten in his watery grave, one more casualty in the South’s ongoing racial conflict. But, even in death, Emmett Till would not be silenced.
Fifty years after the heinous crime, THINKFilm proudly presents THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL, a powerful documentary that chronicles Till’s shocking murder and celebrates his important legacy to the Civil Rights movement. The film is the culmination of a decade-long odyssey for director Keith Beauchamp, who first became aware of Till’s story when he was a young boy living in Louisiana. At the age of ten, Beauchamp came across a 1955 issue of Jet magazine and saw a photograph of Till’s mutilated body, an image that made a tremendous impression on him. His parents told him the story, cautioning that racism was still a pressing concern for all people of color. Outraged, Beauchamp made up his mind to study Criminal Justice one day, hoping to become a Civil Rights attorney.
While he was pursuing his goal in college, he was sidetracked by a sudden interest in filmmaking and moved to New York City to write and produce music videos. In time, Beauchamp’s two passions converged. When invited to think about a feature-length project he might be interested in developing, Beauchamp decided to make a film about the murder of Emmett Till, a story that had continued to haunt him since childhood.
Initially, Beauchamp wanted to write and film a fictionalized version of the story. As he started researching the subject, however, he realized that truth was more gripping and provocative than fiction and that Till’s story could be told more effectively in a documentary. “I read the book, THE DEATH IN THE DELTA by Steven Whitfield, and a master’s thesis about Emmett Louis Till, written by Steven Whitaker. Then I went on a huge hunt to locate newspaper microfilm that covered the murder,” Beauchamp recalls. He was surprised that there was so little information available about Till’s death: even newspaper accounts were sketchy and inconclusive. Undaunted, Beauchamp determined to learn more. His research turned into a full-blown investigation, as he set out to find family members and other eyewitnesses who were present on the night of the murder. Beauchamp had to play the role of detective as well as filmmaker.
The first person he approached was Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother. Beauchamp knew she was a strong and determined woman. At the time of her son’s death, she had insisted on displaying his mutilated body at his burial, even threatening to open his casket with a hammer if authorities did not cooperate. She wanted the world to know about the terrible injustice her son had suffered at the hands of Southern bigots, no matter how much pain she experienced in the process. Beauchamp was afraid Mrs. Mobley might be opposed to the idea of a movie because revisiting the murder would inevitably open old wounds. But Mrs. Mobley was very supportive. “She could not believe that someone my age would be interested in producing a film about a subject that was way before his time,” Beauchamp remembers. There was an immediate connection between Till’s mother and the young filmmaker. She inspired and empowered Beauchamp to such a degree that his passion for his project became the driving force in his life.
But a film cannot be produced on passion alone. Beauchamp needed financing to make his dream a reality. He applied for grants, but was refused because he was not an experienced filmmaker and did not have examples of his work. Ultimately, his parents financed the film by giving Beauchamp the funds they had saved for his law school tuition. Ready to move forward with his story, Beauchamp set out to find eyewitnesses to Till’s murder, hoping to shed new light on the case.
Because of his youth and inexperience, Beauchamp had to convince many of the eyewitnesses that he was worthy of their help. Though many years had passed, the Till case was a sensitive subject: the people who were involved were understandably suspicious and fearful, and did not want a stranger coming into their lives, probing for information. “They wanted someone who was serious and who would be on their side until the job was done,” recalls Beauchamp.
Beauchamp’s former interest in criminal justice became useful when he started asking questions. “When I began interviewing the eyewitnesses, I realized that some of the information had never been revealed before. The interviews I was recording were actually depositions, and with the encouragement of Mrs. Mobley, I decided at that time to try to use the material to get the Till Case reopened, so Emmett Till’s family and friends could begin to have closure.” Some of the witnesses who appear in the film are shown with their faces obscured. There were reasons for discretion, Beauchamp explains. These people still lived in the Delta, so their identities had to be protected, for their safety and in the event they would have to testify in court.
Beauchamp should have been afraid to tackle a subject as explosive as a landmark 1950s hate crime. There was always the possibility that someone would try to prevent him from uncovering new information about Till’s death. But Beauchamp came from the deep South and knew how to move swiftly, silently, and effectively among his fellow Southerners. “I understood the dangers involved in producing a film like this and was in Mississippi for four years conducting interviews without anyone knowing,” Beauchamp explains. “I worked hard and took risks because the Till case was a story that I had been passionate about since I was 10. It was a story that I was willing to die for. Martin Luther King once said, ‘If a man hasn't found something that's worth dying for, then he isn't fit to live,’ a quote that I continue to live by everyday.”
The most important development in Beauchamp’s investigation was that he was able to identify 14 people who were involved with the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. Surprisingly, five of these people were black men who had been forced to participate in the crime. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, the two men who were accused, tried, and inexplicably acquitted of Till’s murder (after the trial, when there could be no repercussions, they confessed to the murder in Look magazine) had passed away and could not be brought to justice. But Beauchamp has found five people still alive who could still be indicted and charged for Till’s kidnapping and murder, including Carolyn Bryant, the white woman Emmett whistled at in 1955.
Beauchamp was so excited by the information he uncovered that he informed the Department of Justice about his investigation and supplied them with evidence which ultimately led to the re-opening of the case. “I have been in contact with state and federal officials since 2001,” he explains. “My first communication was with the State Attorney General's office in Mississippi and then I began to meet with the Federal Government in 2003 and 2004. At first, officials did not want to take a chance and work with a filmmaker who may have been promoting himself. I had to set aside my filmmaker's hat and prove to them that I was serious. I begun handing over every bit of evidence that I had on the case, as well as footage. At that point, they realized that I was sincere and I have been working with them ever since the case reopened on May 10, 2004.” Beauchamp actually withheld some of his findings from his film because he did not want to harm the government investigation. He hopes to reveal more about the Till case in a sequel.
Although Beauchamp was determined to set the record straight and crusade for justice for Emmett Louis Till, he never wanted audiences to lose sight of Till’s humanity. “Emmett was an innocent child, a human being. A mirror image of every young boy, black or white,” emphasizes Beauchamp. “My objective was to have viewers see that he was like any normal kid so they would fall in love with his character. It wasn't so hard to accomplish because, throughout the film, he is described affectionately and admiringly by the people who knew him best.”
One of Beauchamp’s greatest regrets is that Mamie Till-Mobley died in 2003, before she could witness the tremendous resurgence of interest in her son. “Mrs. Mobley was a great inspiration in my life,” Beauchamp affirms. “We worked together for eight years to win justice for her son's murder. I went into a deep depression after she died and could not look at the footage from the film. Before she passed away she would often tell me that I was pre-ordained to tell Emmett's story, but I didn't believe her. Mrs. Mobley will be missed dearly.”
Beauchamp hopes that when people see the film, they will finally know the truth about the murder of Emmett Louis Till and how his execution in 1955 mobilized the Civil Rights Movement. It was because of Till's death that Rosa Parks refused to get up from her seat on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama. It was because of Till’s death that a twenty-five-year old Martin Luther King decided to take on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. “Till’s story was supposed to be forgotten, because it was a very dark part of American History,” says Beauchamp. “But we must never forget those who paved the way for us to exist. Till should be a Civil Rights icon, for he was the sacrificial lamb of the Movement.” With the help of THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL, people will continue to tell his story for generations to come. As Beauchamp points out, “this film serves as a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.”
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWS
The mother of 14 year old Emmett Louis Till who made a courageous act by having an open-casket funeral so that the world could see what happen to her son.
REV. WHEELER PARKER
Cousin of Emmett Till, who traveled with him to Money, Mississippi in 1955 to visit relatives. Rev. Parker eye witnessed the infamous “Wolf Whistle” and was present during the night of the abduction.
Mississippi cousin of Emmett Till, and son of Mose Wright to whom Emmett went to visit. Mr. Wright eye witnessed the infamous “Wolf Whistle” and sharing a bed with Emmett, the night he was abducted.
RUTHIE MAE CRAWFORD
The only female who was present the day of the infamous “Wolf Whistle.” Ms. Crawford also eye witnessed the abduction of Emmett Louis Till. She identifies the men who abducted Emmett Till.
REV. AL SHARPTON
Civil Right’s Activist and President of the National Action Network.
DR. RAYMOND LOCKETT
History Director, Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Civil Rights Activist and brother of slain Civil Rights leader, Medgar Evers.
Mississippi friend of Emmett Till, who was present the day of the infamous “Wolf Whistle.”
Brother of Roosevelt Crawford and friend of Emmett Till. Mr. Crawford helped identified Till’s body with Emmett’s Great-uncle, Mose Wright when it was pulled from the Tallahatchie River.
Surprise Witness for the Prosecution who eye-witnessed Emmett and his abductors the night he was murdered. Mr. Reed heard screams coming from the barn where Emmett was being tortured.
J.W. Milam’s neighbor who eye-witnessed the burning of Emmett Till’s clothing the night he was murdered. Ms. Johnson was present when J. W. made a confession to her father about the murder.
Author and reporter who covered the Till trial for “The Nation” Magazine in 1955.
Eye witnessed two of Till’s abductors washing Emmett Till’s blood from their truck.
HENRY LEE LOGGINS
One of the Black men who was involved with the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER
KEITH BEAUCHAMP (director, producer)
Keith Beauchamp attended Southern University of Baton Rouge where he studied Criminal Justice in hopes of becoming a Civil Rights Attorney. As a young man in Louisiana, Beauchamp experienced his share of run-ins with racism but it wasn’t until an incident in which an undercover police officer assaulted him for dancing with a white woman, that he felt compelled to leave the south and pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker.
In the fall of 1997, Keith Beauchamp relocated from Baton Rouge to New York City. He quickly found work at Big Baby Films, a company founded by childhood friends that focused on music video production. Keith honed his behind-the-camera skills while he spent his evenings doing research and reaching out to anyone who might have information on the Emmett Till case. Beauchamp was just ten years old when he came across an issue of Jet magazine that had a picture of Emmett Till’s dead body and he soon learned the horrific story behind the boy’s murder.
In 1999, Beauchamp founded Till Freedom Come Productions, a company devoted to socially significant projects that both educate and entertain. He has devoted the past nine years of his life to pursuing justice for Emmett Till. In connection with this cause, Beauchamp traveled extensively between New York and Mississippi to reinvestigate the murder and subsequent trial. Throughout his journey, he located witnesses who had never before spoken about the case, befriended Emmett’s mother, Mrs. Mamie Till-Mobley, who took Keith under her wing, and worked with such influential figures as Muhammad Ali and Reverend Al Sharpton, all the while persistently lobbying both the State of Mississippi and the Federal Government to re-open the Emmett Till murder investigation.
On May 10, 2004, the United States Department of Justice re-opened this 49 year-old murder case citing Beauchamp’s documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” as a major factor in their decision as well as the starting point for their investigation.
Beauchamp’s current project in connection with the Emmett Till case is his Memoirs. This book will focus on Keith’s journey as well as the social and political significance of his trials attending to a case many believe was the catalyst for the Black Resistance of the South that later became known to us all as the American Civil Rights movement.