Nearly 70 years ago, Mamie Till-Mobley held an open casket funeral for her son, Emmett Till, at a church on the South Side of Chicago. The sight of his 14-year-old body, bloated and disfigured, reignited a civil rights movement.
Now, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has introduced legislation to designate the Roberts Temple Church where Till’s funeral was held as a national monument. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Corey Booker (D-N.J.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined Duckworth in introducing the bill.
“The Roberts Temple Church is of both extraordinary and incredibly heartbreaking historical importance to Chicago, our state and to this country, and what happened to Emmett matters both during Black History Month and each day of the year,” Duckworth said.
“By designating this church a national monument, we will help ensure that generations of Americans can come show respect to Mamie and Emmett’s stories. It’s past time we recognize how national monuments can not only teach us about our history — but provoke us to build a more just future.”
In August 1955, Till traveled from Chicago to Mississippi to visit family. One afternoon, Till went inside the Bryant Store. Carolyn Bryant, who worked at the store, claimed that Till grabbed her, made lewd advances and wolf-whistled at her.
On Aug. 28, 1955, Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped Till, brutally beat him to death and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River. Though a trial was held, the two were acquitted. They later admitted to the lynching.
In 2017, Bryant told Duke University professor Timothy B. Tyson the allegations she made of Till grabbing her and being crude toward her were fabricated, according to Vanity Fair. Despite this, in August 2022, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Bryant.
In March of 2021, President Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime. Then, last December, the House passed a resolution to posthumously award both Till and his mother, Till-Mobley, the Congressional Gold Medal.
But for years, the Till and Roberts families have been working to obtain federal recognition and National Park status for Roberts Temple, as well as for important sites linked to Emmett Till in Mississippi.
“We are grateful for the introduction of legislation to preserve the legacy of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley by making Roberts Temple a National Historic Site, which will help to fulfill Mamie’s request for my wife and I ‘to continue her work to ensure her son’s death was not in vain,” said Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s cousin and the last living witness to Till’s abduction, Dr. Marvel Parker and the Till family.