Louis Till (1922 - July 2, 1945) was an American soldier and convicted rapist and murderer. He is best known as the father of Emmett Louis Till, whose murder in 1955 at the age of fourteen galvanized the African-American civil rights movement.
A soldier during World War II, 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. As a young man, Till worked at the Argo Corn Company, was an amateur boxer, and was very popular with women. At the age of 17, he began courting Mamie Carthan, a woman of the same age. Her parents disapproved, thinking the charismatic Till was "too sophisticated" for their daughter. At her mother's insistence, Mamie broke off their courtship. But the persistent Till won out, and they married on October 14, 1940. Both were 18 years old. Their only child, Emmett Louis Till, was born on July 25, 1941. Mamie left her husband soon after learning that he had been unfaithful. Louis, enraged, choked her to unconsciousness, to which she responded by throwing scalding water at him. Eventually she obtained a restraining order against him. After violating this repeatedly, a judge forced Till to choose between enlistment in the United States Army or imprisonment time. Choosing the former, he enlisted in 1943.
While serving in the Italian Campaign, Till was arrested by military police, who suspected him of the murder of an Italian woman and the rape of two others in Civitavecchia. After a lengthy investigation he was court martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out at the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa on July 2, 1945. He was a fellow prisoner of American poet Ezra Pound, who had been imprisoned for collaborating with the Nazis and Italian Fascists; he is mentioned in lines 171-173 of Canto 74 of Pound's Pisan Cantos:
- Till was hung yesterday
- for murder and rape with trimmings
The circumstances of Till's death were not revealed to his estranged wife. 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.
On August 28, 1955, fourteen-year old Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi, after reportedly flirting with a white woman. The woman's husband and brother-in-law abducted Till and tortured him to death, and then threw his body into the river. The men were arrested, charged and tried with first degree murder, but were acquitted by an all-white jury. 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 piece 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 published a retraction. For white Southerners, however, the impression was left that the erroneous Life article was representative of the Northern media in general. Subsequently, other editorials went so far as to tar Emmett Till with his father's crimes. These editorials essentially portrayed Emmett as a burgeoning rapist after the fashion of his father, thereby justifying his murder.
- Till-Mobley and Benson, pp. 14–15.
- Till-Mobley and Benson, pp. 14–17.
- Houck and Grindy, pp. 134–135.
- Whitfield, p. 117.
- Pound, Ezra (1948). The Pisan Cantos. New York: New Directions. ISBN 0-8112-1558-X.
- Houck and Grindy, p. 136.
- Houck and Grindy, p. 138.
- Houck, Davis; Grindy, Matthew (2008). Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press, University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-934110-15-9
- Till-Mobley, Mamie; Benson, Christopher (2003). The Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America, Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6117-2
- Whitfield, Stephen (1991). A Death in the Delta: The story of Emmett Till, JHU Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-4326-6