Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case
Publisher & Date:
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2003
Recommended Age Range:
13 and up
This excellent non-fiction book introduces readers to the horrifying true story of the August 1955 kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Young Emmett was born and raised in Chicago and was visiting family in Money, Mississippi during the summer of 1955. It was a tumultuous time in the South. Simmering racial tensions were exacerbated by the recent ruling against segregation in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. All of this was most likely unknown to Emmett, who had grown up in Chicago, where Jim Crow laws were not as strict.
One day, on a dare, Emmett talked to Carolyn Bryant, a white woman who worked at a convenience store. To this day, no one knows exactly what was said, only that the woman took offense to it. Many believe that at most, Emmett said “Bye, Baby” to Mrs. Bryant after purchasing a candy from her. Upon hearing of Emmett’s alleged insolence, Mrs. Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, kidnapped, beat, and tortured Emmett. According to an interview with Bryant and Milam years later, Emmett refused to admit to wrongdoing even while being tortured, so they shot him, and threw his body into the Mississippi River. The aftermath of the murder was even worse, as the entire town knew who had committed the crime, but rallied behind the murderers to proect the “Southern Way of Life.” The two murderers were found not guilty of all charges by a jury of 12 white men. The murder and its unjust aftermath was one of the strongest unifying and motivating factors in the budding civil rights movement at the time.
Due to the non-fiction and historical nature of this book, it would most likely appeal to fans of true crime, U.S. history, African-American history, the civil rights movement, activism, and social justice. It would also be a perfect companion to the moving civil rights documentary series “Eyes on the Prize” as this book is an extremely detailed and contextualized account of the Emmett Till case.
Chris Crowe’s research and writing breathes new life into Emmett Till. Rather than focus on the grisly details of Till’s death and the case, Crowe firmly grounds Till’s entire life in the context of greater U.S. history. Crowe’s book piques readers interest by beginning with the suspenseful details of Emmett’s kidnapping. Then it goes on to describe the case’s impact on the budding, pre-Rosa Parks civil rights movement. The book also sheds light on current events during the time that Emmett Till lived and talks about his hobbies, his friendships with other children, his role in his neighborhood and his relationship with his mother, giving the reader a much fuller picture of Till’s life. The clever integration of photography and maps help to illustrate the important points of Till’s case and introduces readers to first-hand sources and archival materials. The book’s timeline, bibliography, and lists of additional resources and further reading encourage further research into the case and on African-American history. Ultimately, this is an empowering book about how a teenager named Emmett Till, even in death, galvanized an entire movement.