The Death Of Emmett Till

Album: The Bootleg Series Volume 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (2010)
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Songfacts®:

  • Emmett Till was a black teenager from Chicago who was severely beaten and then shot in the head in Money, Mississippi, on August 28, 1955. He was 14 when he died, and his only crime was addressing a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. Dylan wrote this song very early in his career, telling Till's story in a literal narrative.

    Some say Till merely spoke to Bryant while others say he flirted. Either way, nothing he did came close to justifying his tragic murder at the hands of Bryant's husband, Roy, and his half-brother J.W. Milam.

    To compound the injustice of the whole ordeal, both killers were acquitted of their crimes. Afterwards, they boasted of what they'd done. The incident sparked a surge of civil rights protests, including a march led by Martin Luther King and attended by Rosa Parks.

    Seven years after the event, Dylan wrote this song. He recorded it for Marcus Witmark & Sons, which was one of Dylan's first two publishing companies. This version appeared on various Bootlegs, but the song was not officially released as a Bob Dylan recording until 2010, when it appeared on The Bootleg Series Volume 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964. In 1972, it was included on the compilation Broadside Ballads Vol. 6: Broadside Reunion, where Dylan was credited as Blind Boy Grunt.
  • In 1962, Dylan made some of his first broadcast performances when he played this song live on various radio stations, including WBAI in New York City and WGES in Chicago (that station later became WGRB - 1962 was the last year it went by call sign WGES).
  • On the Folksinger's Choice radio show in March 1962, Dylan said that he took this song from Len Chandler's song "The Bus Driver."

    In Chronicles, Dylan's nonlinear autobiography, he called Chandler's song, "One of the most colorful songs had been about a negligent school bus driver in Colorado who accidentally drove a bus full of kids down a cliff. It had an original melody and because I liked the melody so much, I wrote my own set of lyrics to it. Len didn't seem to mind."
  • Dylan performed this song in concert just once: at the Finjan Club in Montreal, Canada on July 2, 1962.

Comments: 1

  • AnonymousDuane Harms was the newly-hired bus driver who failed to stop his school bus at the railroad tracks near Greeley, Colorado, as was and is required of all busses in Colorado. He lived but 20 children died. Duane was found guilty and spent ONE YEAR in prison. Nope, no cliff but plenty of negligence. I’ve been a bus driver and those tracks can be a pain to stop at but it’s the law and this was a tragedy.
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