*A mystery has surrounded the tragic case of Emmett Till for more than six decades and it centers on a photo of his white classmates, particularly a white girl, who Till joked was his “girlfriend” when he visited Mississippi back in 1955.
Till, 14, was abducted Aug. 28, 1955, and murdered after supposedly whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in a grocery store in Money, Mississippi.
J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were acquitted in his murder but later confessed in a 1956 Look magazine story by journalist William Bradford Huie, USA Today noted.
Till’s murderers “killed him because he boasted of having a white girl and showed them the picture of a white girl in Chicago,” Huie told filmmakers for the 1987 documentary “Eyes on the Prize.”
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Yearbook photo of Joan Brody when she was 16. (Photo: Special to Clarion-Ledger)
In the doc, Till’s cousin Curtis Jones mentioned that Till had a “picture of some white kids that he had graduated from elementary school with … female and male.”
The girl in the photo has long been an enigma… but now, 63 years later, she has been identified as Joan Brody, who gave her first interview to the Clarion-Ledger about her relationship with Till.
The documentary’s producer, Henry Hampton, told NPR that Till showed this school photo to his folks in Mississippi, pointing to a white girl and saying she was “his girlfriend. In fact, it was his classmate.”
She was the only white girl in Till’s class.
“He had beautiful eyes,” she recalled while confirming that the two had quite the friendly relationship. It was at their graduation where the photo was apparently taken, but Brody said, “I had no interest in it.”
She never saw Till again…but would eventually learn about the circumstances surrounding his tragic death.
“He wasn’t a smart-alecky kid,” she said. “He wasn’t a person to smart off to a white woman or any woman.”
Joan Brody poses for a photo outside of her Chicago-area suburban home Aug. 19, 2018. (Photo: John Gress for USA TODAY)
The Look magazine article noted claims that Till said he’d had sex with white women. But his mother, Mamie Till, called it the report preposterous, saying her son would “never brag about the women he had. How could he? He was only 14.”
Brody agreed, saying “he was a gentleman” and calling the men that killed him “worse than animals.”
She also wonders what might have been if Till had lived.
“He had his whole life ahead of him – to be gone just like that,” she said. “And for what reason? He could have been president,” she said. “He was just a nice kid with a nice smile.”
She added: “He didn’t deserve it,” she said. “Nobody deserves what they did to him.”