BETHANY, W.Va. — The 1955 lynching of teenager Emmett Till has long been recognized as a spark of the Civil Rights Movement, but the author of a book on the subject says that money and persistent racism still influence how the crime is remembered.

Dave Tell, the author of “Remembering Emmett Till” and a University of Kansas professor communications studies, discussed his research during a convocation lecture Tuesday at Bethany College.

Till was 14 when he kidnapped, beaten, and lynched after he was accused of whistling at a white woman. Two white men accused of his murder were acquitted by an all-white jury.

“The book is not about the murder itself but of how the story of the murder is told and how it has changed,” said Tell, a communications studies professor at the University of Kansas.

Tell has worked with the Delta-based Emmett Till Memorial Commission to erect a bulletproof sign to mark the site where Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. Repeated vandalism had destroyed three previous signs.

Tell is also involved in the Emmett Till Memory Project, a mobile app and a related website that highlight 18 places related to the Till lynching.

During an hour-long presentation that drew about 60 people, Tell recounted facts of the crime and how their acceptance has changed over time.

For instance, Sunflower County, Mississippi – the actual site of Till’s death – was routinely omitted from maps relating to the crime, Tell said as he showed maps from throughout the years. And the barn where his beating occurred is unmarked and remains on private property. (A local dentist bought the property unaware of its history, and has since repaved the driveway to allow for tour bus access, Tell said.)

Tell also discussed how Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, the site of the alleged whistle has fallen into ruin, while a neighboring structure, Ben Roy’s service station, received state funds for repairs.

Both sites are owned by the family of Ray Tribble, a juror in the 1955 trial. Tell said that groups have offered to buy the dilapidated property with plans of turning it into a memorial, but the Tribbles have asked for $4 million.

Bryant’s and Ben Roy’s are often confused, Tell said, because a historical marker stands exactly 33.5 feet from each structure on a public easement.

“Racism and money are not only changing the story but also how people experience the story,” Tell said.

“Remembering Emmett Till” was published in 2019 by the University of Chicago Press.

Bethany College’s Convocation series will continue at 11 a.m. Feb. 4 when Dr. Peter Ehni and Dr. Beckey Fahey will discuss “Better Pitching Through Science.” They will speak in the Academic Parlour in Old Main.

Other upcoming speakers are Dr. Ann Riesbeck DiClemente of Otterbein University on March 3; Dr. Seema Lakdawala of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine on March 17, and Professor Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne Law School on March 24.

All speakers are at 11 a.m., and the public is welcome to attend.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.