The South Side Chicago church where Emmett Till’s funeral took place now has a new sign, a temporary one for now, that indicates its status as a national monument.
On Tuesday, a week after the 82nd anniversary of Till’s birth, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and various federal, state and local leaders attended the sign unveiling for the new Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument site at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Bronzeville.
The sign unveiling also occurred a week after President Joe Biden signed a proclamation to establish the national monument.
“Today, we remember Emmett Till and the life that was stolen from him at the age of 14, and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley’s bravery and advocacy to shed a light on the injustice and trauma of lynching,” said Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton.
Till, visiting relatives in Mississippi from Chicago, was kidnapped, tortured and lynched for whistling at a White woman in 1955.
Till-Mobley made the anguished yet brave decision to give Emmett an open casket at his funeral, which was held at Roberts Temple almost 68 years ago. Upon viewing her son’s mutilated body, she told a funeral director, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.”
When Jet Magazine and other Black publications published an image of Till’s body, it shone a light on the vicious racism that existed in America. But it also inspired a new generation of activists and galvanized the modern civil rights movement.
Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley: ‘We Must Never Forget’
At Roberts Temple on Tuesday, political leaders such as Gov. JB Pritzker, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), U.S. Reps. Danny K. Davis, Robin Kelly, Jonathan Jackson, Mayor Brandon Johnson and Lt. Gov. Stratton spoke about the importance of Till’s story and its enduring relevance given the racism in America today.
One example of contemporary racism that speakers referenced was the newly instituted mandate for Florida public schools to teach that “Black people benefited from slavery.” Also mentioned was the racism exhibited by Presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Another speaker referenced the incident where Arizona Republican Rep. Eli Crane called Black people ” “colored people” on the House floor.
“We ensure that our fight remains constant, so no one has to suffer under the brutality of racism,” said Mayor Johnson of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley.
“Because it is clear that there are forces that have not accepted the results of the Civil War. In fact, it is clear that they want to rematch,” he said.
Yet, at Roberts Temple on Tuesday, where thousands of people attended Emmett’s funeral almost 68 years ago, one of the dominant themes of the program was Till-Mobley’s courageousness.
“As a mother and a grandmother,” said Congresswoman Kelly, “I am always struck by the pain Mamie Till-Mobley felt when she stood at this site, warned her son and forced the country and the world to reckon with his horrific and devastating murder.”
“We must never forget Emmett Till’s life or his mother’s courage.”
The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument: What’s Next
President Biden’s proclamation established the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument at three separate, existing sites in Illinois at Roberts Temple and in Mississippi at Graball Landing, where Till’s mutilated body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River and at the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, where his murderers were tried and acquitted by an all-white jury.
The National Park Service will soon host tours at the land it was granted that sits next to the church. No announcements have been made on when those tours are set to start.
After the service at Roberts Temple, everyone gathered outside the church for the unveiling of the new temporary sign.
One of those persons was Till’s cousin, Pastor Wheeler Parker, who was also on hand for the event, along with other relatives of Till. Parker was with Till the night he was murdered and is the last living witness of his cousin’s kidnapping.
On Tuesday, Parker took in the entire scene as dozens milled about the outside of Roberts Temple and posed for pictures in front of the temporary new sign. People waited in line to speak and take photos with him.
“Monuments and activities, they speak volumes,” Parker said. “We just thank God for the Black press, who hung in there and told the story.”
Here are more photos from the sign unveiling at Roberts Temple: