Women of the Movement: The Press and Emmett Till

Women of the Movement promotional image. © 2021 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

On January 6, ABC aired the first two parts of the historical drama Women of the Movement, centered on Mamie Till-Mobley and her devotion to justice for her murdered son Emmett Till.

Among other sources, the series draws heavily from Devery Anderson’s 2015 monograph Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement. The Emmett Till Archives at FSU Libraries are fortunate enough to hold the personal papers of Devery Anderson, including many primary and secondary sources that informed his book, and by extension the narrative of Women of the Movement.

Read on to discover more about the historical works behind the modern production.

The show emphasizes the early and influential role of American newspapers in Emmett Till’s story. Mamie Till is depicted holding an issue of the Chicago Daily Globe the day after Emmett’s murder, with a banner headline declaring “Chicago Teen Kidnapped By Armed Duo.” While that particular paper appears to have been fabricated for the show, one can browse similar headlines and articles from 1955 in the Emmett Till Archives, including in the Devery Anderson Papers, the online resources and paper files of the Davis Houck Papers, and the Till Archives Resource Guide.

Headline from the Hattiesburg American, September 1, 1955, implicating Till in his own murder.

Women of the Movement juxtaposes scenes of reporters working for Chicago papers with black audiences and those working for Southern papers with white audiences, highlighting very different approaches to their interview subjects and Emmett Till’s character. Mamie Till tells reporters for Jet magazine and other Chicago-area publications that Emmett is a “good boy.” In interviewing Sheriff Strider in Mississippi, a reporter for the Jackson Daily News leads with a question about Emmett’s “ugly remarks.”

Headlines from the Chicago Defender, September 10, 1955, emphasizing the status of Till and his family as victims.

This tension between Emmett Till as a child victim and as an outsider who violated Southern customs is present in the actual press of the day. Each newspaper had its own editorial board and audience, and the manner in which the news was reported could vary significantly in tone and content, depending on which aspects of events were deemed significant to publishers and readers.

We invite you to make use of the resources below to learn more about the role of the American press in the story of Mamie and Emmett Till. If you’d like to learn more about the sources behind Women of the Movement, or want to learn more about using the Till Archives in your research, scholarship, or instruction, please leave a comment below or contact us at lib-specialcollections@fsu.edu.

Sources and Further Reading

Devery Anderson Papers, MSS 2015-009, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida. https://purl.lib.fsu.edu/fa/MSS_2015-009

Devery S. Anderson. (2015). Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. https://fsu.catalog.fcla.edu/permalink.jsp?23FS038009709

Davis Houck Papers, MSS 2015-007, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida. http://purl.fcla.edu/fsu/MSS_2015-007

Davis W. Houck and Matthew A. Grindy. (2008). Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. http://fsu.catalog.fcla.edu/permalink.jsp?23FS021608760

FSU Digital Library. Emmett Till Archives. https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu%3Aemmetttillarchivesmain

FSU Libraries. Emmett Till Archives [research guide]. https://guides.lib.fsu.edu/Till

“Mamie Till-Mobley.” https://fsuspecialcollections.wordpress.com/2021/11/23/mamie-till-mobley/

Published by Rory Grennan

Rory Grennan is Director of Manuscripts Collections at Florida State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives.

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