Emmett Till honored with life-size statue in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi community with an elaborate Confederate landmark plans to unveil a life-size statue of Emmett Till Friday, decades after white men abducted and murdered the black teen for allegedly looking after a white woman in a rural area. store.

The 1955 lynching became a catalyst for the civil rights movement after Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket funeral in Chicago so the world could see the horrors inflicted upon her 14-year-old son. Jet magazine published photos of his mutilated body, which had been recovered from the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi.

The 2.7 meter bronze statue in Greenwood is a cheerful depiction of the living Till in pants, a shirt and a tie with one hand on the brim of a hat.

Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., the last living witness to his cousin Till’s kidnapping from a family home, said he will not be able to travel from Illinois to attend Friday’s dedication ceremony. But he told The Associated Press on Wednesday, “We just thank God that someone keeps their name there.”

The Till Statue at Greenwood’s Rail Spike Park is a short drive from an elaborate Confederate memorial outside the Leflore County Courthouse and about 10 miles from the crumbling remains of the store, Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market in the hamlet of Money.

The statue’s unveiling coincides with the release this month of “Till,” a film about Till-Mobley’s private trauma over her son’s death and her development as a civil rights activist.

A life-size bronze statue of Till-Mobley is planned in the Chicago suburb of Summit. On October 28, a groundbreaking operation is planned for a plaza outside Argo Community High School, where she was an honorary student. The statue is slated to be in place by the end of April.

This undated portrait shows Emmett Louis Till, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955 after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman who worked in a store.  (AP Photo/File)
This undated portrait shows Emmett Louis Till, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955 after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman who worked in a store. (AP Photo/File)

Some mistakenly thought Till got what he deserved for breaking the taboo of flirting with a white woman, and many people didn’t want to talk about the matter for decades, Parker said.

“Now there’s interest in it, and that’s a godsend,” Parker said. “You know what his mother said, ‘I hope he didn’t die in vain.'”

Greenwood and Leflore County are both over 70% black, and officials have worked for years to make the Till image a reality. sen. Democratic State’s David Jordan from Greenwood received $150,000 in state funding, and the community commissioned Utah artist Matt Glenn to create the statue.

Jordan said he hopes it will entice tourists to visit Greenwood and learn about the area’s history.

“So much has been said about this case,” Jordan said this week. “Hopefully it brings us all together.”

Till and Parker had traveled from Chicago to spend the summer of 1955 with relatives in the deeply segregated Mississippi Delta. On August 24, the two teens joined other young people on a short trip to the store in Money. Parker said he heard Till whistle at storekeeper Carolyn Bryant.

Four days later, Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night. The kidnappers tortured and shot him, weighted his body with a gin fan and dumped him in the river.

Jordan, who is black, was a college student in September 1955 when he drove to the Tallahatchie County courthouse in Sumner to see the murder trial of two white men charged with Till’s murder: Carolyn’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother, JW. milam.

An all-white, all-male jury acquitted the two men, who later confessed to Look magazine that they had killed Till.

No one has ever been convicted of the lynching. The United States Department of Justice has opened multiple investigations since 2004 after receiving inquiries about whether someone who is still alive can be prosecuted.

In 2007, a Mississippi prosecutor presented evidence to a grand jury of black and white residents of Leflore County after investigators spent three years re-examining the murder. The FBI exhumed Till’s body to prove that he, and not someone else, was buried in his grave in the Chicago suburb of Alsip. The grand jury declined to issue charges.

The Justice Department reopened an investigation in 2018 after a 2017 book quoted Carolyn Bryant — now remarried and named Carolyn Bryant Donham — saying she lied when she claimed Till grabbed, whistled and made sexual advances on her. Relatives have publicly denied that Donham, who is in her 80s, has retracted her allegations. The department closed that investigation in late 2021 without filing charges.

This year, a group searching the basement of the Leflore County courthouse found an unserved 1955 warrant for “Mrs. Roy Bryant.” In August, another Mississippi Grand Jury found insufficient evidence to charge Donham, sparking consternation among Till’s relatives and activists.

While Mississippi has dozens of Confederate monuments, some have been relocated in recent years, including one that was moved in 2020 from a prominent location on the University of Mississippi campus to a cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried.

The state has a few monuments to black historical figures, including one in honor of civil rights activist Fannie LouHamer.

A historic marker outside Bryant’s Grocery has been knocked down and vandalized. Another marker near where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River has been vandalized and shot. The Till statue in Greenwood is monitored by security cameras.

“Every time they take it away,” Jordan said, “we just put it back.”

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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