Story at a glance
- Emmett Till was a Black teenager lynched by a white mob after a white woman made false accusations against him.
- His killers were acquitted, but his mother spent her life ensuring his memory would not be lost.
- Now, their home in Chicago will be preserved as a landmark.
Until a few months ago, the home of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley was owned by a white man who knew little about the 125-year-old building’s history.
On Tuesday, the city granted a landmark designation to the house, now owned by Blacks In Green, an organization dedicated to sustainable housing for Black communities in Chicago.
“We’ve been working toward this honor and Chicago Landmark Designation for many years, recognizing the importance of this home and its associations with the tragic death of Emmett Till,” Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller told CBS Chicago. “Emmett Till’s brutal death was part of the profound ‘spark’ that influenced so many leaders in the efforts towards equality and confronting injustice in America, from Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] to Rosa Parks and so many people in between. It was a turning point in the struggle for Civil Rights and equality for all Americans.”
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Till was 14 years old when he was lynched by a mob in Money, Miss., where he was visiting family, in 1955 after Carolyn Bryant Donham, a white woman, lied about Till harassing her. Donham did not admit to the lie publicly until nearly 50 years later, after an all-white, all-male jury acquitted her then-husband and another man arrested for Till’s murder.
“The lynching of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old child from Chicago, on a summer trip to visit his relatives in Mississippi, and the brave efforts of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley that followed, were a call to action,” Miller told the station. “We should never forget the brutality of his death, the lifelong efforts of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley to show the world these injustices, and also her courage to also forgive, but to always remember too.”
Till-Mobley, a teacher, insisted on an open casket funeral for her son, saying, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” She became active in the civil rights movement, speaking all over the country and working to help children living in poverty, establishing a group called “The Emmett Till Players,” a performing group of young students. She lived in the three-bedroom apartment she once shared with her son on the second floor until 1962.
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Despite her efforts, Black In Green founder Naomi Davis said on Twitter, “Up to this point, we haven’t done Emmett’s memory and sacrifice enough.”
“Up to this point, we haven’t done Emmett’s memory and sacrifice enough,” said Naomi Davis of @BlacksInGreen, which is developing an $11 million museum, theater and programs on the site. https://t.co/XuePGTKWKa
— Dennis Rodkin (@Dennis_Rodkin) January 27, 2021
The building itself, which is part of the Emmett Till Memory Project tour, is in poor condition, reported local news outlets last year, having changed hands several times and racking up code violations. Another site on the tour, a memorial in Sumner, Miss., was vandalized several times in 2019, even after a bulletproof memorial replaced the previous one, which had been shot up.
ABC is currently filming a limited series, “Women of the Movement,” that will focus on Till-Mobley in the first season.
The Emmett Till Interpretive Center is celebrating the first season of “Women of the Movement” focusing on Mamie Till Mobley.
“Who’s to say where we would be today if she had not taken, or shared the choice, that she did?” pic.twitter.com/aiA9BcjMQf
— Jalyn Souchek (@Local24Jalyn) January 27, 2021
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