Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi, and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley, posthumously will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor given to Americans with distinguished achievements.
The Senate on Tuesday, January 11, unanimously passed a bill to award the honor to Till, the Chicago teenager murdered by two white men in 1955 in Mississippi. The murder shocked the world and served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced the bill to honor Till and his mother with the awards.
They described the legislation as a long-overdue recognition of what the Till family endured and what they accomplished in their fight against injustice. The House version of the legislation is sponsored by outgoing Congressman Bobby Rush. He has also sponsored a bill to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Mamie Till-Mobley.
After the award, the medal will be given to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., where Till’s original casket is on display in the most heavily attended exhibit in the museum.
The museum also has an enlarged black and white photo of Till and his mother on the wall of the stairwell leading to the floor containing the Slavery and Freedom exhibit.
Known as a prankster and nicknamed “Bo-bo,” Till grew up in the Woodlawn neighborhood in a two-flat building that is just several blocks from the Chicago Crusader office.
In the summer of 1955, Till took a train from Chicago to rural Money, Mississippi, to be with his cousins. During a trip to Bryant’s grocery store there, Till was accused of wolf-whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman whose husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, owned and ran the neighborhood grocery store.
In the early morning hours of August 26, 1955, the two white men abducted Till from his great-uncle’s home. Two days later, a fisherman discovered two feet protruding out of the Tallahatchie River. Authorities pulled the body out and found that it was attached to a cotton gin fan with barb wire. The body was bloated, and the face had been badly disfigured, with a bullet hole in the head.
The body was later identified as Till’s after his father’s ring was found on his finger. Authorities tried to have Till’s body buried in a cemetery in Money, Mississippi, but his mother ordered it to be brought back to Chicago by train.
Against the orders from the state of Mississippi, Till-Mobley had Chicago’s A.A. Rayner Funeral Home opens a box containing her son’s remains. She then told the funeral home that she wanted an open casket funeral to show the world what the men did to her son. Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender published a photo of Till’s mutilated face before other publications around the world followed suit.
A few months later Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman after thinking about Till’s murder.
Tens of thousands of people attended Till’s funeral that included a four-day public funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Bronzeville. Till was buried at Burr Oak Cemetery in south suburban Alsip on September 6, 1955.
After burying her son, Till-Mobley attended the trial of Bryant and Milam, both of whom were acquitted in just one hour. They later confessed to killing Till in an interview with Look Magazine. Both men are dead.
In 2019 in the book “The Blood of Emmett Till,” Carolyn Bryant recanted her testimony and said the accusations that Till touched, threatened, or harassed her were “not true.”
Mamie Till-Mobley died in 2003 after decades of fighting for justice for her son.
Simeon Wright, Till’s cousin, who was with him when he was abducted in 1955, died in Chicago in 2017. Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s cousin, is the last living witness to the events leading up to the boy’s murder. He is pastor of the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ in southwest suburban Summit.
Till’s home in Woodlawn was named a Chicago Landmark in 2020. Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ is also a Chicago Landmark. Last year, 66 years after it hosted Till’s funeral, a bill was introduced in Congress to designate the church as a National Historic Site.
Last December, the U.S. Justice Department closed the Emmett Till case without bringing charges against Bryant or anyone connected to the boy’s murder.