Photo caption: THE FAMILY OF Mamie Till-Mobley poses with the artist after the unveiling of the life-size statue of civil rights activist Mamie Till-Mobley at Argo Community High School in Summit, Illinois on April 29, 2023. From l-r: Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr. and his wife, Dr. Marvel Parker; Sonja Henderson, artist; and Dallas Anderson, community leader. (Photos by Marcus Robinson)
Chicago Civil Rights activist Mamie Till-Mobley was honored last weekend at two separate events that praised her contributions to racial justice following the murder of her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till.
President Joe Biden spoke of Mobley’s legacy during the annual White House Correspondents dinner on Saturday, April 29. He then mentioned the contributions of the Black Press, particularly Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender in telling the Emmett Till story that white newspapers were reluctant to publish. Biden quoted another famous Black resident from Chicago, investigative journalist and women’s rights’ advocate Ida B. Wells who spent her life documenting lynchings during segregation in the South.
Hours earlier in Summitt, Illinois, community leaders unveiled an 850-pound bronze statue of Mobley outside her alma mater, Argo Community High School. They also dedicated the Emmett Till Memorial Walkway.
It was a spirit-filled ceremony that occurred four days after Till’s accuser, Carolyn Bryant Donham, died while in hospice care in Louisiana. She was 88 and was never charged or convicted for her role in Emmett Till’s brutal death.
The mood was upbeat more than a thousand miles north. In Summit, nearly 14 miles southwest of Chicago, outside Argo Community High School, a group of high school students dressed in Argo’s burgundy choir robes sang, before dignitaries removed a cover to reveal a seven-foot immortalized statue of Mamie Till-Mobley, the school’s first Black student to make the honor roll and the fourth minority to graduate at Argo.
The statue is a nod to Mobley as an activist who called for justice after two white men killed her son in 1955 for allegedly whistling at Donham. The statue depicts Mobley reading a speech at an ornate podium. The statue shows Till-Mobley’s left arm extended while the right arm rests on the podium. A picture of a younger Emmett is on the front side of the base. On the left and right sides of the base, there are carved images of the barn in Money, Mississippi, where Emmett was murdered and an image of Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, where Emmett’s funeral was held.
Above Emmett’s photo is a quote from Till-Mobley that reads, “We are only given a certain amount of time to do what we were sent here to do. You don’t have to be around a lifetime to share the wisdom of a lifetime. There is no time to waste.”
The statue was created by Chicago artist Sonja Henderson, who began molding the structure from clay in 2021.
Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., who was with Emmett during his fateful trip to Mississippi, said, “The effect of this memorial speaks volumes to the race issue in America. The Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley Walkway represent a welcome home to Emmett that he was not able to experience in life.”
State Senator Kimberly Lightford during the ceremony said, “Mamie Till-Mobley’s bravery was felt and is still felt across the nation. She personalized strength and action and showed up.”
Chris Benson, President of the Till Institute in Chicago, said, “Not only does the statue represent an incredibly accurate likeness, but it also represents a source of inspiration for generations at the gateway to the school where Mother Mobley was an honor student,” said Benson. “As a teacher for more than two decades, Mother Mobley considered her leadership in education as a high form of activism, preparing students for future challenges armed with the understanding of the sacrifices that had made it possible for them to succeed.”
After living in Argo, in the 1950s Till-Mobley, along with Emmett, moved to Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, where Emmett was known as “Bobo” in the neighborhood. The home is located just three blocks east of the Chicago Crusader office.
In August, 1955, Emmett was just 14 years old when he traveled to Money, Mississippi. During a trip to a grocery store, he was accused of whistling at Bryant Donham, a white woman whose husband owned the store. Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam later kidnapped Till before they brutally murdered him in a barn. They threw his body in the Tallahatchie River. Till’s body was later found attached with barbed wire to a cotton gin fan.
Officials planned to bury Till in Mississippi, but Till-Mobley intervened and had her son’s body shipped back to Chicago. She held an open casket funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ after telling A.A. Rayner Funeral Home, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.”
That same quote is located on the side of the top portion of the podium on her statue at Argo Community High School.
President Biden referenced the same quote during his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner later that evening at the Washington Hilton in the nation’s capital.
Biden said, “During Black History Month this year, I hosted the screening of the movie “Till.” The story of Emmett Till and his mother is a story of a family’s promise and loss and a nation’s reckoning with hate, violence and the abuse of power.
“It’s a story that was seared into our memory and our conscience, the nation’s conscience, when Mrs. Till insisted that an open casket for her murdered and maimed 14-year-old son be the means by which he was transported. She said, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.”
The room at the Washington Hilton exploded with loud cheers and applause when President Biden said, “The reason the world saw what she saw was because of another hero in this story: the Black press. That’s a fact. Jet Magazine, the Chicago Defender and other Black radio [stations] and newspapers were unflinching and brave in making sure America saw what she saw. And I mean it.”
President Biden also praised journalist Ida B. Wells, mentioning her quote: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon the wrongs. Turn the light of truth upon the wrongs.”