On Friday, a large statue of Emmett Till will be unveiled in a Mississippi town with a detailed memorial to the Confederacy. The town is not far from where white men kidnapped and killed a black teenager because they said he flirted with a white woman in a rural store.
The lynching of 14-year-old Till in 1955 helped start the civil rights movement when his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open-casket funeral in Chicago so that everyone could see what had happened to her son. Jet magazine published pictures of his body after it was found in pieces in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi.
The bronze statue in Greenwood is a happy likeness of Till when he was alive. He is wearing pants, a dress shirt, and a tie, and he has one hand on the brim of his hat. Its height is 9 feet (2.7 meters).
Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. said he won’t be able to make it from Illinois to Friday’s dedication ceremony. He was the last person left alive who saw his cousin Till being taken from a family home. But he told The Associated Press on Wednesday, “We just thank God that someone is keeping his name out there.”
The beautiful Confederate monument in front of the Leflore County Courthouse and the ruins of Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market in the hamlet of Money are close by. The Till statue in Greenwood’s Rail Spike Park is about 10 miles (16 km) away.
The statue will be given out at the same time that “Till,” a movie about Mobley’s struggles after the death of her son Till and how she became a civil rights activist, opens this month.
In the Chicago suburb of Summit, a bronze statue of Till-Mobley that is the size of a real person is being made. She got good grades at Argo Community High School, and on October 28, work will begin on a plaza outside the school. The statue should be put in place by the end of April.
Some people have the wrong idea Parker says that Till got what he deserved for flirting with a white woman, which was against the rules at the time, and many people avoided talking about it for decades.
Parker said, “It’s good that people are interested in it now. You know that his mother said, “I hope he didn’t die for nothing.”
More than 70% of the people who live in Greenwood and Leflore County are black, and politicians have been working for years to get the Till statue built.
David Jordan, a Democrat from Greenwood, got $150,000 from the state for the statue, and a Utah artist, Matt Glenn, was hired by the people of Greenwood to make it.
Jordan said that he hopes it will make people want to visit Greenwood and learn more about its history. Jordan said this week, “So much has been said about this case. “Maybe it will bring us all together,” she said.
In the summer of 1955, Till and Parker came from Chicago to the very segregated Mississippi Delta to stay with family.
On August 24, the two teens went to the supermarket in Money with some other teens for a quick stop. Parker said that he had heard Till whistle at the store owner, Carolyn Bryant.
Four days after that, Till was taken from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night. His body was weighted down with a cotton gin fan before being shot, tortured, and dumped into the river by his captors.
Jordan, a Black college student, went to the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner in September 1955 to watch the murder trial of Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband, and J.W. Milam, Roy’s half-brother, who were both accused of killing Till.
The two men were set free by an all-white, all-male jury, even though they later admitted to killing Till to Look magazine. No one has ever been convicted of lynching someone. In response to questions about whether charges could be brought against any living people, the U.S. Justice Department began several investigations in 2004.
After re-investigating for three years, a prosecutor in Leflore County, Mississippi, presented evidence to a grand jury made up of Black and White people in 2007.
The FBI had to dig up Till’s grave in the Chicago suburb of Alsip to prove that he was buried there and not somewhere else. The grand jury decided that no one would be charged.
Carolyn Bryant, who has since remarried and goes by the name Carolyn Bryant Donham, said in a book published in 2017 that she lied when she said Till grabbed her, whistled at her, and tried to get with her.
In 2018, the Justice Department started looking into her claims. Relatives say that Donham, who is in her 80s, has publicly denied taking back what she said. Late in 2021, the investigation was over, but no charges were brought.
This year, the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse was searched, and a warrant for “Mrs. Roy Bryant” from 1955 was found. In August, another Mississippi grand jury said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Donham, which worried the Till family and campaigners.
Mississippi has a lot of Confederate monuments, but some of them have been moved recently. One was moved from a prominent spot on the University of Mississippi campus to a cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried in 2020.
There are a few monuments to famous Black people in the state, including one in Ruleville that honors Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader in the civil rights movement.
A historical marker has been broken and messed up outside of Bryant’s Grocery. Near the place where Till’s body was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River, another memorial has been shot at and vandalized. There will be surveillance cameras observing the Till statue in Greenwood.
Jordan responded, “Anytime they take it down, we’ll just put it back up.