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The Lynching of Emmett Till

A Documentary Narrative
Christopher Metress

BUY Paper · 384 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813921228 · $26.00 · Oct 2002

At 2:00 A.M. on August 28, 1955, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, visiting from Chicago, was abducted from his great-uncle’s cabin in Money, Mississippi, and never seen alive again. When his battered and bloated corpse floated to the surface of the Tallahatchie River three days later and two local white men were arrested for his murder, young Till’s death was primed to become the spark that set off the civil rights movement.

With a collection of more than one hundred documents spanning almost half a century, Christopher Metress retells Till’s story in a unique and daring way. Juxtaposing news accounts and investigative journalism with memoirs, poetry, and fiction, this documentary narrative not only includes material by such prominent figures as Hodding Carter, Chester Himes, Eleanor Roosevelt, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Eldridge Cleaver, Bob Dylan, John Edgar Wideman, Lewis Nordan, and Michael Eric Dyson, but it also contains several previously unpublished works—among them a newly discovered Langston Hughes poem—and a generous selection of hard-to-find documents never before collected.

Exploring the means by which historical events become part of the collective social memory, The Lynching of Emmett Till is both an anthology that tells an important story and a narrative about how we come to terms with key moments in history.


[A] provocative compendium of accounts from black and white newspapers that telegraph the mixture of obfuscation and horror surrounding the case, as well as the poetry, memoirs and fiction that testify to its enduring importance.

Publishers Weekly

[A]nthologizes the Till case: the murder, the trial, the newspaper coverage, the struggle the killing sparked between racists and rights activists, and the passing of the case into the realms of both history and myth.

The Washington Post

[R]iveting..In compiling the facts of the case, editor Christopher Metress has presented a full and complete account of one of America's most brutal hate crimes.

Quarterly Black Review

The emotional power of Emmett Till's murder has never been stronger than in Christopher Metress's fascinating documentary narrative. Here are the facts as well as the myth. Here are the heroic lies told with the best intentions. Here are truths that have never been properly understood until now. Every American struggling to understand the mystery of race in America would do well to read this book.

Juan WilliamsSenior CorrespondentNPR, author of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965

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