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'Lingering Injustice:' Till Homages Suffer Setbacks

Society & Culture  (tags: death, ethics, theft, Emmett Till, murder, scandal, civil rights, gravesite, memorial )

- 3530 days ago -
The glass-covered coffin his mother put him in so "the world would see what they've done to my boy" was left forgotten in a Chicago cemetery and inhabited by a family of opossums. The highway marker named for him in Mississippi was ripped down


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Raffi L (301)
Thursday July 23, 2009, 10:18 am
'Lingering injustice:' Till homages suffer setbacks

Jerry Mitchell July 17, 2009

The glass-covered coffin his mother put him in so "the world would see what they've done to my boy" was left forgotten in a Chicago cemetery and inhabited by a family of opossums.

The highway marker named for him in Mississippi was ripped down and had to be replaced.

The general store where he supposedly made the "wolf whistle" that led to his brutal beating and killing is crumbling, despite efforts to convert it into a museum.

The slaying of 14-year-old Emmett Till helped fuel the civil rights movement, but homages to his legacy have suffered as many setbacks as successes.

"He continues to represent lingering injustice," said Devery Anderson, who runs the Web site,, and is writing a book on Till's killing.

Till had traveled by train from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi in August 1955 when he was abducted, beaten and shot to death after he supposedly wolf-whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. Bryant's husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, allegedly abducted Till and brutally beat him before shooting him, weighing his body down and throwing it into the Tallahatchie River.

An all-white jury in Tallahatchie County acquitted the two white men of murder - only for them to admit their guilt months later to Look magazine.

Last year, Congress passed legislation named after Till, aimed at punishing unsolved killings from the civil rights era. In 2004, Till's killing case was reopened, only to be closed again three years later after a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict in the case. Bryant and Milam are both dead.

"Emmett is Moses-like," said Alvin Sykes, architect of the legislation. "He may not reach the promised land of justice, but he is leading others to get there."

Although legislation was aimed at creating a cold cases unit within the U.S. Department of Justice, Congress has not approved funding. Current appropriations bills in the House and Senate would include funding for the unit.

Sykes, members of Till's family and other victims' families plan to meet July 27 with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the best ways to implement the legislation.

"We want to jump-start the effort now," Sykes said. "With the attorney general's authority, that can take place without having to wait until Oct. 1, when the spending is appropriated."

Since 1989, state and federal authorities have re-examined dozens of unpunished killings from the civil rights era, leading to 23 convictions. The most recent one came in 2007 in Jackson when reputed Klansman James Ford Seale was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping in the Ku Klux Klan's 1964 abduction of two African-American teenagers, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.

Till was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Ill., where his mother is also interred, and now four former employees of that cemetery, including former manager Carolyn Towns, are accused of exhuming up to 300 bodies and reselling the emptied plots. They reportedly split as much as $300,000 from this scheme.

In 1996, Anderson said when he spoke with Till's mother, Mamie Mobley, she had established a memorial fund and planned on moving Till's casket from Burr Oak Cemetery to Oak Woods Cemetery.

He helped her write letters and make phone calls to raise money. "A lot weren't interested in helping," he said. "They felt the money should go to those living."

He remembered Towns promising Mobley she would create a mausoleum and museum at Burr Oak if Mobley would keep him buried there. Chicago authorities now accuse Towns of pocketing the money that would have gone to that project.

In the wake of this scandal, Anderson has seen a spike in traffic to his Web site. "Some of them had never heard of Emmett Till until this happened," he said.

Representatives of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission in Tallahatchie County received a phone call this week from the sheriff's office in Chicago, asking if they had any information on Towns. They replied they knew nothing about her.

"It's troubling when people use good causes to raise money for nefarious reasons," said Susan Glisson, executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi.

In 2007, the commission sponsored an event in which Tallahatchie County officials invited the Till family and apologized for what had happened five decades earlier.

Sykes, president of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, said the family wants Till's historic casket returned in hopes of restoring it and placing it in a museum.

Glendora Mayor Johnny Thomas said he's told the Till family the casket would be welcome at the Emmett Till Museum in his town.

The city of 250 has turned a former cotton gin into a museum that includes exhibits related to the killing, including a gin fan from those days. (The killers tied a gin fan to Till's body before tossing him in the river.)

Thomas' late father, Henry Lee Loggins, was a sharecropper at the time. One news report identified him as one of those who aided the killers.

"My father was one of those I feel that Jim Crowism turned into a monster," Thomas said. "The term they use for those people today is accomplices."

He wants to have the museum recognize the role of those accomplices, he said. "We need to tell that part of the story so that African-Americans will not forget how horrific Jim Crowism was."

Tallahatchie County has $2 million it is putting toward the restoration of the courthouse where the 1955 trial was held and is hoping to raise $6 million more.

The building would serve as both a working courthouse and a museum, said Holly Hawkins with Belinda Stewart Architects in Eupora.

Billy Walker, a 62-year-old white businessman from Greenwood, has been working for more than a year to raise money to buy the dilapidated Bryant Grocery and Meat Market in Money, which he described as ground zero for the civil rights movement. The family wants six figures for the property.

Now he is discussing an alternative plan - rebuilding the store, period.

He said he believes plenty of people and companies would donate labor and materials. "It's our way of saying, 'We're sorry.' "

Jamie L (195)
Thursday July 23, 2009, 10:50 am
Thanks Raffi!

Past Member (0)
Friday July 24, 2009, 1:22 am
Thanks Raffi. The different projects are interesting. The Civil Rights Movement and its actors need to be remembered in a dignified manner.

Friday July 24, 2009, 4:53 pm
Not just sick and greedy, but grossly abused were the people trying to place loved ones....... Not sure how they could even stand themselve much less smile and sell others plots....

. (0)
Saturday July 25, 2009, 11:57 am
Thanxx Raffi... Still no justice in death is there.

Raffi L (301)
Saturday July 25, 2009, 5:41 pm
Hopefully this little boy will finally get the respect and rest he so deserves-when this is over. He was a great inspiration to many. Rosa Parks was thinking of him when she refused to be intimidated by her situation. Thanks for your comments everyone. And your compassion.
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