Fifty Years Later, Murder Case Still Intrigues

In 1955 the death of 14-year-old Emmitt Till helped mobilize the civil rights movement.

While visiting relatives in Mississippi, the Chicago teen whistled at a white woman. That night Emmitt was kidnapped, brutally beaten and shot in the head.

Two white men were arrested, but were quickly acquitted by an all-male, all-white jury. Once the jury was selected, it was over.

Mississippi native and FSU alum Steve Whitaker wrote his thesis on the Emmitt Till case in 1962, spending two years in his hometown where the murder happened.

Dr. Steve Whitaker says, “They sort of had the assumption that I was going to be on their side, which was not true.”

The case was reopened one year ago by the Department of Justice, and Whitaker's "inside" knowledge has led to routine calls from the FBI as well as questions from students in a unique course at Florida State University.

The speech communication students are taking a class that solely focuses on the Emmitt Till case, gathering lost documents and examining newspapers.

Dr. Davis Houck, an FSU professor who developed the course, says, “You've got sex, violence, racism. Also, there's murder, there's never been any justice.”

But the plot thickened last week when it was announced Emmitt Till's body may be exhumed within the next few weeks to help gather new evidence.

Matt Grindy, an FSU graduate student, says, “It made history not so historical, just more contemporary for me.”

Sally Bishai says it's been an eye opener.

Sally says, “But it kind of made me realize things haven't really changed. People still have these prejudices and these walls.”

The two men accused of Emmitt Till's murder later sold their story to a magazine, detailing how they killed the 14-year-old boy. They have since died, but the FBI is looking into whether others may have been involved.