Emmett Till, Mamie Till-Mobley posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medal

Deborah Watts of Minneapolis, points out a widely seen 1950s photograph of her cousin Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till Mobley, during a visit to Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 in conjunction with events in Mississippi and Illinois commemorating the 60th anniversary of the slaying of Till, a black 14-year-old from Chicago who was visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta when witnesses said he violated the Jim Crow social code by whistling at a white woman. He was kidnapped and killed Aug. 28, 1955, and his body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River three days later. An all-white jury acquitted two white men charged in the slaying. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Nearly 70 years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was kidnapped and murdered by two white men, the House has passed a resolution to posthumously award both he and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, the Congressional Gold Medal. 

The resolution, titled the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021, was introduced by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in February 2021. The act passed in the Senate in early January of this year. 

“At the age of 14, Emmett Till was lynched at the hands of white supremacists. His brutal murder still serves as a reminder of the horror and violence experienced by Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. The courage and activism demonstrated by Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in displaying to the world the cruelty endured by her son helped awaken the nation’s conscience, forcing America to reckon with our failure to address racism and the glaring injustices that stem from such hatred. Her bravery sparked the civil rights movement and was one of the reasons that the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed,” Booker said when the legislation was fully passed.

In July, Burr honored what would have been Till’s 81st birthday by urging the House to pass the act.

“Emmett Till’s horrific murder and the unjust acquittal of his killers shocked the nation and made plain the evils of racism,” Burr said. “He was just a boy when he was killed, but, had he lived, Emmett would be 81 years old today and very possibly still with us. It is only right that we posthumously award the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, to Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in recognition of the grave injustices they faced and the indelible impact they had on American civil rights. I’m glad the Senate has already passed legislation I’ve introduced to do so. It is my hope that the House will do the same and take up this bill soon.”

Booker was proud to see the House pass the legislation this week.

“Now more than six decades after his murder, I am proud to see the House pass long-overdue legislation that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to both Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobley in recognition of their contributions to advancing racial justice in our nation,” Booker said.

Till, who was from Chicago, was brutally tortured and lynched by a pair of white men in Mississippi in 1955. His corpse was discovered in the Tallahatchie River three days after his murder. Despite eyewitness testimony, the men who murdered Till were acquitted of all charges. 

But it was the work of Till-Mobley that became a major catalyst for the civil rights movement.

“Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, demonstrated her love for her son and her courage and strength in suffering in the days that followed as she brought the body of Emmett Till back to Chicago for burial and demanded an open casket funeral, which drew more than 50,000 attendees,” the bill reads. 

At that funeral, Till-Mobley also allowed photographs to be taken of her son’s mutilated body. Those photos circled the nation. 

Bobby Rush, house sponsor for the act, said, “The gruesome and unjust murder of Emmett Till serves as one of the most well-known examples of a lynching in American history. Without the courage and determination of his mother, Mamie, in keeping his casket open during his funeral, the world would not know what happened to him or the full horrors of white supremacy. We must honor Emmett’s life and his mother Mamie’s contributions to racial justice.”

Till-Mobley would go on to on to create the Emmett Till Players and served as co-founder and chair of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign.

The Emmett Till Players was a mobile group of students who delivered speeches about hope, unity and determination, inspired partially by the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

But it was the work of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign that led to the passage of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2008, signed into law by former President George W. Bush, and the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016, signed into law by former President Obama. 

The medal will be given to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

– Updated 12:44 p.m.

Tags Chicago civil rights movement Congressional Gold Medal Cory Booker Cory Booker Emmett Till Emmett Till Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021 Emmett Till Justice Campaign Emmett Till Players Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016 Mamie Till-Mobley Mississippi National Museum of African American History and Culture racism Richard Burr Richard Burr The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007

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