Activist and relative of Emmett Till dies at 50

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AIRICKCA GORDON-TAYLOR in 2015 speaks during the 60th anniversary of the murder of her cousin, Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip. (Photo by Erick Johnson)

Airickca Gordon-Taylor spent life educating generations about gruesome murder of Black teenager

Airickca Gordon Taylor (photo provided by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law)

Airickca Gordon-Taylor, who spent her life educating others about the brutal gruesome murder of Emmett Till, died early Saturday, the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation announced on its website. She was 50. Gordon-Taylor died hours after a hospital stay. She had kidney problems for decades, including two transplants, according to her mother, Ollie Gordon, who was Till’s cousin, the Associated Press reported on March 24.

Relatives are devastated about Gordon-Taylor’s death but remain limited in giving her a proper funeral under the federal guidelines for public gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, of which Gordon served as executive director, released a statement on its website in response to her death.

“It is with deep sadness that the Emmett Till Family and The Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation announce the sudden passing of Executive Director Airickca Gordon Taylor.

“Airickca, 50, cousin to Emmett Louis Till, has been a stalwart and advocate for social justice and equality. She spent countless years as a dedicated advocate for anti-lynching legislation, pro peace marches, youth conferences and has supported the board, shareholders, volunteers, and countless community non-profits through her selfless dedication to the vision of the Foundation.

“Airickca made a life-long commitment to her cousin Mamie Till of “Remembering the Past and Educating the Future” through the legacy of Emmett Till. Despite numerous medical bouts throughout the years, it was with great courage, devotion, and resolve that she stood firm to this mission in the face of virulent circumstances.

“Airickca was excited about her full recovery so that she could continue to plan for the 65th commemoration of the tragic death of Emmett Till scheduled for August 28, 2020.

“Although we are personally hurting right now as a family, we extend continued concern and prayers to our nation and world as we face many uncertainties with COVID-19. We ask for prayers and will be doing the same for each of you. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation.”

Gordon-Taylor, who lived in Olympia Fields, also called herself Till’s cousin, and considered herself a surrogate daughter to Till’s mother, who she lived with for a time.

Gordon-Taylor in 2009 named her foundation after Till’s mother, calling it the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to honor her and her only son.

Nicknamed “Bobo,” Emmett Till grew up in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, just three blocks from the Chicago Crusader office. In 1955, Till visited relatives in Money, Mississippi, where he was accused of whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, at a grocery story that her husband owned. He was kidnapped in the early hours of the morning and taken to the shed where he was brutally beaten and shot in the head before his battered and bloated body was found weighted down with 70-pound fan in the Tallahatchie River.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted that A.A. Rayner Funeral Home hold an open-casket funeral at Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ to show the world what two white men had done to her son.

The men, Roy Bryant and John William “J. W.” Milam, were eventually acquitted by an all-white jury in a trial the lasted just over an hour. They later sold their story for $4,000 to LOOK magazine – bragging about the murder as a form of Southern justice implemented to protect white womanhood.

On November 27, 1955 Rosa Parks attended a packed meeting about Till’s murder at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hosted the meeting. According to Parks’ biographer Jeanne Theoharis, Parks was “sickened, angry, depressed, horrified,” by Till’s murder. In 1988, Reverend Jesse Jackson told Vanity Fair that “Rosa said she thought about going to the back of the bus. But then she thought about Emmett Till and she couldn’t do it.”

Four days after the meeting and 100 days after Till’s death, bus driver James Blake told Parks to give up her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus. Parks refused and was arrested, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In 2017, Gordon-Taylor attended the funeral on the West Side of Simeon Wright, Emmett Till’s cousin, who witnessed his 1955 abduction in Money, Mississippi. That same year, Gordon-Taylor spoke out after Carolyn Bryant-Donham, who remarried, admitted in a Vanity Fair article that she lied during the trial to help acquit her husband. She said her first husband had threatened her during the trial.

In an interview with the Crusader, Gordon-Taylor said she learned about Donham after a friend from Los Angeles called her about the Vanity Fair article on the magazine’s website.

“I was lying in the bed and wasn’t feeling well when she called. “I said what? I was surprised when I saw this all of a sudden.”

Like many Blacks, Gordon-Taylor said she had always known that Donham’s accusations were false, but she grew particularly upset when Donham compared the grief of losing one of her sons to that of Till-Mobley’s grief over her murdered child.

“There’s no comparison. Her husband brutally killed my cousin,” Gordon-Taylor said.

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