In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till left Chicago to visit family in the Mississippi Delta, where he was abducted and lynched on August 28. His death might have gone unnoticed by the general public if not for the courage of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, who decided to “let the world see what I have seen” by holding an open-casket memorial service for her son upon his body’s return to Chicago. Emmett’s murder shocked the conscience of the nation.
The legacy and impact of these events stretch from Chicago to Mississippi, offering a powerful lens to understand how local people and communities shaped the Civil Rights Movement. Additionally, the sites connected to Till’s kidnapping and lynching in the Mississippi Delta and memorial service in Chicago illustrate key historic events of the 20th century. Preserving and interpreting these sites are critical to telling the full story, raising public awareness of this turning point in American history, and amplifying the cause of racial and social justice, a fight that continues today.
Sites of Conscience, Memory, and Justice
Journeying through the sites associated with Emmett Till’s murder, his extended visitation and open casket funeral, and the subsequent trial in which two of Emmett’s murderers were acquitted illustrate how these events spurred a nationwide movement for civil rights:
- Bryant’s Grocery Store and Site (Money, Mississippi) is the location where Emmett Till is alleged to have whistled at a white woman, the event that preceded his kidnapping and murder.
- J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant severely beat Till at the Sunflower County Barn (Drew, Mississippi), also likely the place of his murder.
- Black Bayou Bridge is likely the bridge from which they threw Emmett Till’s body into the Black Bayou that then drained into the Tallahatchie River.
- His body was removed from the Tallahatchie River at Graball Landing (Glendora, Mississippi).
- At Tutwiler Funeral Home, a black undertaker prepared Emmett Till’s body before it was sent north to Chicago for the visitation and funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.
- Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ (Chicago, Illinois) was founded in 1916 and known as the “Mother Church” of the Church of God in Christ in the state. Following Mamie Till Mobley’s decision to “let the world see what I’ve seen,” an estimated 100,000 people filed past Emmett’s casket over three days in September 1955.
- The September 1955 trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant for Emmett Till’s murder took place at Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. Today, the recently restored courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Moses Wright, Emmett Till’s great uncle, preached and also took refuge after testifying at the murder trial at East Money Church of God in Christ and Cemetery (Money, Mississippi)—the same place where local officials attempted to bury Till before Mamie Till Mobley demanded her son’s body be returned to Chicago.
- Mound Bayou, Mississippi—an independent black community formed by former slaves in 1887—was the center of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership civil rights organizing in the early 1950s and played an important role in the investigation of Emmett Till’s murder. Mound Bayou is also the location of Taborian Hospital, whose first chief surgeon was civil rights leader T. R. M. Howard, mentor to Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer. Howard housed and protected Mamie Till Mobley and others during the murder trial.
Partnering to Preserve the Till Family Legacy
The National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has joined with local and national partners to document and preserve the remaining sites connected to this crucial history. These partners include the Till Family, Roberts Family, Emmett Till Interpretive Center, the Till Institute, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ (also listed as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2020), National Parks Conservation Association, and Latham and Watkins LLP. Since 2017, the Action Fund has provided grant funding for critical stabilization of Roberts Temple COGIC and expansion of programming at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi.
In March 2021, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced legislation (S. 795) that would establish Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ as a National Historic Site in the National Park System. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), joined as original cosponsors. These actions represent our shared goal to preserve and protect these significant places in Chicago and the Mississippi Delta.
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