Why Emmett Till And Mamie Till-Mobley’s National Monument Matters Now More Than Ever

On July 25, 2023, President Joe Biden announced the establishment of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument. This would have been Till’s 82nd birthday. The memorial highlights three historic sites in Mississippi and Illinois where the boy nicknamed “Bobo” lived and traveled before his gruesome murder by white racists in 1955. He was just 14 years old.

“The brutal lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and the subsequent courage of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to ensure his death would not be in vain helped bring broad national attention to the injustices and inequality that Black people experienced during the Jim Crow era across the United States and, in particular, the South,” states the proclamation.

Biden designates a national monument honoring Emmett Till and Mamie Till- Mobley : NPR

President Biden signs a proclamation to establish the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument on July 23, 2023. Photo by Mandel NGAN/AFP.

In August 1955, Till left his hometown of Chicago, where his mother moved at age 2 as part of The Great Migration. Originally from Mississippi, Till-Mobley sent her first-born child to visit extended family Down South. On the evening of Aug. 25, 1955, Till went with his cousins and friends to buy candy at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money, Miss. The store clerk, a white woman named Carolyn Bryant, accused Till of making inappropriate advances toward her—a serious violation of the unwritten Jim Crow laws common at the time.

Four days later at around 2:00 a.m., Roy Bryant, the store owner and husband of the clerk, and his half-brother, John W. Milam showed up at the home where Till was staying. The boy’s granduncle later testified that, armed with a gun and a flashlight, the men said they were looking for the “boy that done the talking down at Money.”

Muddied Waters

The two men instructed the teen to get dressed and then kidnapped him. On Aug. 31, 1955, Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River near Graball Landing in Tallahatchie County, Miss. after a group of boys saw a pair of feet sticking out of the water while fishing.

“His body was found with barbed wire tied around his neck and attached to a 70-pound cotton gin fan,” states the proclamation. “A 2005 autopsy, prompted by the reopening of the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, revealed fractures of both of Emmett’s wrists, a fracture of his left femur, multiple fractures of his skull, and a gunshot wound to the head.” Graball Landing and the area along the Tallahatchie River are one of the monument’s three locations.

Chaotic Justice

The second historic site is the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse where Roy Bryant and Milam were wrongfully acquitted on Sept. 23, 1955. A fiery five-day trial concluded after more than an hour of deliberations when an all-white jury found the accused not guilty of Till’s murder.

The following January both men confessed to the killing during a paid interview with Look magazine. “I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice,” said Milam. “And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him.”

The lynching of Black bodies was not uncommon at the time, especially in the Deep South. According to the proclamation, Till was “one of at least three other racially motivated murders in Mississippi during the summer of 1955.”

The Face Of Faith

Till’s case is considered the catalyst of the civil rights movement because of Till-Mobley’s decision to hold an open-casket funeral at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago. The third site of the monument is where she defied orders to keep her son’s casket sealed and revealed the true horror of American racism.


Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument to be created at Bronzeville's Roberts Temple and in Mississippi by Biden proclamation - Chicago Sun-Times

Mamie Till-Mobley over the open casket of her son Emmett Till. Photo courtesy of ‘The Chicago Sun Times’ Collection Chicago History Museum.

“Let the world see what I’ve seen,” she told the funeral director when he asked if he should retouch the boy’s unrecognizable face.

As many as 125,000 people gathered at the popular church during the three days leading up to the burial on Sept. 6, 1955. Then Jet magazine published photos from Till’s funeral services in its September 1955 issue. The graphic image of the single mother staring at her son’s mangled body awakened social consciousness and kick-started the U.S. civil rights movement.

The tragic event served as a cornerstone for other key figures in the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks later recalled that Till inspired her to not give up her bus seat to a white man. “I thought of Emmett Till and I couldn’t go back,” she said of her historic act of civil disobedience.

Before Karen Came Carolyn

In a 2007 interview for his 2017 true-crime book The Blood of Emmett Till, Carolyn Bryant admitted to lying. Speaking to Duke University professor Timothy B. Tyson she speaks on what happened that day in the shop. Regarding her previous allegations that Till made verbal and physical advances toward her, she confessed, “That part’s not true.”

Emmett Till: 1955 warrant for Carolyn Bryant Donham found, family seeks arrest - Chicago Sun-Times

John W. Milam, 35, Roy Bryant, 24, and Carolyn Bryant, 21. Photo courtesy of Mississippi Today.


Despite her admission, in August 2022, a grand jury in Leflore County, Miss., decided not to indict on charges. The charges were of kidnapping and manslaughter. Carolyn Bryant died on April 25, 2023.

Some might argue that the so-called rise of “Karen Culture” proves that not much has changed in the 60-plus years since Till’s death. Or could it be that racial inequities have always persisted in America? And now, like Till-Mobley, more people are using modern technology and media to expose society’s ugly truths.

At a time when Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is quite literally trying to erase American history from our memories and textbooks, the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument matters now more than ever.

TeCo stages powerful rendition of the play, 'The Face of Emmett Till'

Mamie Till-Mobley poses in front of a photo of Emmett Till in her Chicago home on July 28, 1995. Photo by Beth A. Keiser courtesy of AP.

Featured image credit: Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley, 1950. Photo via Library of Congress.

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