Sept. 6, 1955

Mamie Till is held by Gene Mobley, who would later marry her, while she stares at the brutalized body of her son, Emmett Till. She opened the casket, and more than 50,000 saw his body. This photo taken by David Jackson, now in public domain, appeared in both the Chicago Defender and Jet magazine.

Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, opened her son’s casket so that the world could “see what they did to my baby.” Some wept. Some fainted. All were moved by the sight of his brutalized body, a witness to the murderers’ monstrous deeds. 

More than 50,000 flooded the streets of Chicago outside the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, and the photograph of Till’s brutalized body appeared in publications around the world. The resulting outrage helped propel the civil rights movement. 

“It was myself in that coffin, it was my brothers in that coffin,” author James Baldwin said. “I can’t describe it so precisely, because it had been so mutilated, it had been so violated. It was him, but it was all of us.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.