2017 National Book Award Longlist, Nonfiction

Timothy B. Tyson

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson Timothy B. Tyson
The Blood of Emmett Till
(Simon & Schuster)

ISBN: 9781476714844

National Book Foundation: Why did you write this book?
Timothy B. Tyson: I began this book because Carolyn Bryant, the 21-year-old white woman at the Mississippi store counter in whose name her kinsmen lynched Emmett Till, contacted me and wanted me to interview her. I had no intention of writing the story; for one thing, I thought it was probably well-trodden ground. As I prepared for the interview, though, I discovered that even though there were dozens and dozens of novels, poems, songs, documentary and feature films, TV episodes, paragraphs in history textbooks, journal articles or chapters in larger works about the civil rights movement, there was only one rather flimsy and barely book-length history. I still did not plan to write one, however. After I discovered the flood of new sources about the case, I began to consider writing a book. But I only decided to write the book because, like thousands of Americans before me, I found Emmett Till’s hard, dark story drew me inexorably into its entangled truths about the country and humanity itself. As I performed eight years of research on the book, the United States careened into yet another racial crisis, with young Black Lives Matter activist in the streets and the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina emerging, with me drawn into it. When I discovered not just the crucifixion story of Emmett Till, but the resurrection of democracy that Mamie Till-Mobley and hundreds of thousands of American organized it the wake of the tragedy, this surprising history impelled me forward with hope and fear for my own historical moment.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Tyson: The Regulator Bookshop, which opened on Ninth Street in Durham, North Carolina in 1976, is far and away my favorite bookstore. Tom Campbell, who runs the joint, and a remarkable staff, have made this not merely one of the country’s finest independent bookstores, but a priceless community meeting place where crucial discussions are routine. It is one of the highlights of a great American city that is confronting the problems that face cities across the country with passionate devotion and energetic citizenship. I am also a great admirer of the Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, one of the oldest free public libraries in the country, which has many of the same traits, furnishing a priceless place for citizens to gather and explore critically important issues and enjoy great literature and learning.


What actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice, but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, The Blood of Emmett Till “unfolds like a movie” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), drawing on a wealth of new evidence, including a shocking admission of Till’s innocence from the woman in whose name he was killed. “Jolting and powerful” (The Washington Post), the book “provides fresh insight into the way race has informed and deformed our democratic institutions” (Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Carry Me Home) and “calls us to the cause of justice today” (Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina NAACP).

About the Author

Timothy B. Tyson is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School, and adjunct professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina.  He is the author of Blood Done Sign My Name, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, and winner of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion; and Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power, winner of the James A. Rawley Prize for Best Book on Race and the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for Best First Book in U.S. History from the Organization of American Historians. He serves on the executive boards of the North Carolina NAACP and the UNC Center for Civil Rights.


- WEBSITE: aalbc.com

- TWITTER: @timothybtyson

(Photo credit: Susan Evans)


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