Louis Till (died July 2, 1945) was an
American soldier and the father of Emmett Louis Till, whose murder in
1955 at the age of fourteen mobilized the African-American civil
Louis Till was executed by the U.S. Army in 1945
after being found guilty of murder and rape. The circumstances of his
death were little known even to his family until they were revealed
after the trial of his son's murderers ten years later, which affected
subsequent discourse on the death of Emmett Till.
Louis Till grew up an orphan in New Madrid,
Missouri. He married Mamie Carthan in Argo, Illinois in 1940, and she
gave birth to their son, Emmett Louis Till, on July 25, 1941. They
separated in 1942, after he attacked her violently and she defended
herself by throwing boiling water on him. Eventually Mamie obtained a
restraining order against him; after violating this repeatedly, a
judge forced him to choose between enlisting in the U.S. Army or
facing jail time. Choosing the former, he joined the Army in 1943.
In 1945 Till was court-martialed on charges of the
murder of an Italian woman and the rape of two others in Civitavecchia.
After a lengthy investigation he was convicted, and was executed by
hanging near Pisa on July 2, 1945.
He is buried in Plot E of Oise-Aisne American
Cemetery. A fellow prisoner of the poet Ezra Pound, who had been
imprisoned for his fascist radio broadcasts in support of the Axis
powers, Till is mentioned in lines 171-173 of Canto 74 of Pound's
Till was hung yesterday
for murder and rape with trimmings
The full circumstances of Till's death were unknown
at the time to his widow. Mamie Till would later say that she was only
told her husband's death was due to "willful misconduct", and noted
that bureaucracy had frustrated her attempts to learn anything more.
The details of Louis Till's execution only fully emerged ten years
later, after the murder of his son and subsequent trial.
Emmett Till, then fourteen, was kidnapped and
murdered on August 28, 1955 in Mississippi, after reportedly flirting
with a white woman. The two men charged with the murder, the woman's
husband and his brother, were both acquitted of the crime in September.
After the trial, which received much attention from
the national media, Mississippi senators James Eastland and John C.
Stennis uncovered details about Louis Till's crimes and execution and
released them to reporters. The Southern media immediately leaped upon
the story: various editorials claimed that the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Northern media
had covered up or lied about the truth of Emmett Till's father.
Many of these editorials specifically attacked a
short editorial that had appeared in Life magazine, which
presented Louis Till as having died fighting for his country in France.
This article was in fact the only published piece that ever lionized
the elder Till, and Life quickly retracted the error.
For white Southerners, however, the impression was
left that the erroneous Life article was representative of the
Northern media in general. Other editorials went so far as to
associate Emmett Till's actions with his father's crimes. These
editorials essentially portrayed Emmett as a burgeoning rapist after
the fashion of his father, thereby making his murder justified.
Louis Till in Italy