Telling Untold Stories Through the Emmett Till Archives

Detail of a newspaper clipping from the Joseph Tobias Papers, MSS 2017-002

Friday August 28th marks the 65th anniversary of the abduction and murder of Emmett Till. Till’s murder is regarded as a significant catalyst for the mid-century African-American Civil Rights Movement. Calls for justice for Till still drive national conversations about racism and oppression in the United States.

In 2015, Florida State University (FSU) Libraries Special Collections & Archives established the Emmett Till Archives in collaboration with Emmett Till scholar Davis Houck, filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, and author Devery Anderson. Since then, we have continued to build robust research collections of primary and secondary sources related to the life, murder, and commemoration of Emmett Till. We invite researchers from around the world, from any age group, to explore these collections and ask questions. It is through research and exploration of original, primary resources that Till’s story can be best understood and that truth can be shared.

“Mamie had a little boy…”, from the Wright Family Interview, Keith Beauchamp Audiovisual Recordings, MSS 2015-016
FSU Special Collections & Archives.

As noted in our Emmett Till birthday post this year, an interview with Emmett Till’s family, conducted by civil rights filmmaker Keith Beauchamp in 2018, is now available through the FSU Digital Library in two parts. Willie Wright, Thelma Wright Edwards, and Wilma Wright Edwards were kind enough to share their perspectives with Beauchamp and in a panel presentation at the FSU Libraries Heritage Museum that Spring. Soon after this writing, original audio and video files from the interview will be also be available to any visitor, researcher, or aspiring documentary filmmaker through the FSU Digital Library.

Emmett Till, 1954
Emmett Till, December 1954. Image from the Davis Houck Papers

A presentation by a Till scholar in 2019 led to renewed contact with and a valuable donation from FSU alum Steve Whitaker, who in a way was the earliest contributor to Emmett Till research at FSU. His seminal 1963 master’s thesis, completed right here at Florida State University, is still the earliest known scholarly work on the kidnapping and murder of Till, and was influential on many subsequent retellings of the story. The Till Archives recently received a few personal items from Whitaker documenting life in mid-century Mississippi, as well as a small library of books on Till, Mississippi law, and other topics that can give researchers valuable context for his thesis and the larger Till story.

In the future, the newly-founded Emmett Till Lecture and Archives Fund will ensure further opportunities to commemorate Till through events and collection development. FSU Libraries will continue to partner with Till’s family, the Emmett Till Memory Project, Emmett Till Interpretive Center, the Emmett Till Project, the FSU Civil Rights Institute, and other institutions and private donors to collect, preserve and provide access to the ongoing story of Emmett Till.

Sources and Further Reading

FSU Libraries. Emmett Till Archives Research Guide. https://guides.lib.fsu.edu/till

Wright Family Interview, Keith Beauchamp Audiovisual Recordings, MSS 2015-016, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida.
Interview Part I: http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS2015-016_BD_001
Interview Part II: http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS2015-016_BD_002

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