Mrs. Pennell’s Communication Skills class participated in a Black History Month essay contest sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr Center in Lenoir. Lia, an Advanced Technologies Academy freshman, won first place in the county-wide essay contest. Hailey, a Health and Life Sciences Academy freshman, also placed in the contest. They were both invited to read their essay at the MLK Center on Wednesday, February 22. We are very proud of these Caldwell Applied Sciences Academy students.

(Below is the essay written by Lia.)

Motive and Momentum

A 14-year old African American boy, named Emmett Till, was on a family trip, when he was brutally beaten to death, shot, and drowned in a river. “Let the people see what I’ve seen.”, is what Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, told the funeral home director when she decided to put her son in a glass casket. Over 50,000 people attended Emmett’s funeral, opening their eyes to the urgent change that needed to occur. This event impacted the entirety of America during a time when equality was a term that only applied to white citizens. Emmett Till’s death helped to spark the civil rights movement by giving journalists, activists, and the general people of America the motive to make a change.

Journalists were a key factor in the process of spreading the word of what happened to Emmett. At the time, most magazines, journals, and news outlets were white owned, so the news of Emmett was viciously twisted and made up of inhumane lies to throw the blame onto Emmett. However, according to the Library of Congress, the black-led journalist company, Jet Magazine, took initiative and attended Emmett’s funeral. At the funeral, Jet Magazine took several pictures of Emmett in his coffin, Mamie crying over her son, and the many people that were there witnessing the horror in person. The magazine took the news of Emmett further than any word of mouth could have taken it. One of the most significant pieces of evidence that supports this, is the claim made by Bryan Stevenson, an attorney and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, after he took a look at Emmett’s case,”Without the images, no one would be prepared to believe the violence we’ve witnessed.” As a result, the news of Emmett influenced many activists that became an important part in the civil rights movement.

After hearing the heartbreaking news on Emmett Till’s death, many people came to the realization of how wrong this aggressive form of racism was and knew it was time to take action. According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, about 100 days after Emmett’s death, Rosa Parks made the noble decision to not sit in the back of the bus. Reverend Jesse Jackson told Vanity Fair, in 1988, that “Rosa said she thought about going to the back of the bus. But then she thought about Emmett Till and she couldn’t do it.” Rosa was heavily influenced by Emmett, and she was one of the many that decided that change needed to happen. Rosa started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and once the NAACP got involved, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was called in to help the movement. However, well-known activists were not the only people that were moved by the death of Emmett Till.

After Till’s death, the population of African Americans in America had finally received the momentum they needed in order to act on the change that they knew should have been applied years ago. According to National Geographic, a new generation of southern black youth called the “Emmett Till Generation” were on the rise. This group of youth would participate in meetings, sit-ins, protests, and marches that would help make the term “equal” a household word for all ethnicities. Many marches and protests that occurred after Till’s death had a new momentum to them; the kind of motive that helped to bring change to a segregated world.

In conclusion, the civil rights movement had many contributing factors in it that helped make tremendous progress. Activists, black-led journalist outlets, and the percentage of Americans that wanted and needed change to occur in America were all very important in the movement. Above all, Emmett’s death and Mamie Till’s courageous decision to have an open casket funeral, helped to give the momentum to spark the civil rights movement. Emmett’s mother said it best: “I believe that the whole United States is mourning with me. And if the death of my son can mean something to the other unfortunate people all over the world, then for him to have died a hero would mean more to me than for him just to have died.” Despite the efforts made by activists in the past, racism is still a prevalent problem today. People continue to fight against these injustices under the black live matter movement.

Works Cited

CrashCourse. “Emmett Till: Crash Course Black American History #34.” YouTube, 12 Mar. 2022,

Smithsonian. “Emmett Till’s Death Inspired a Movement.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, 28 Aug. 2018,

“The Photo That Changed the Civil Rights Movement.” Time,

Yang, Allie. “How Emmett Till’s Murder Catalyzed the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.” History, 28 Oct. 2022, ivil-rights-movement.