Emmett Till’s house among black sites for historical funds


Emmett Till left his home on the South Side of Chicago in 1955 to visit relatives in Mississippi, where the black teenager was abducted and brutally murdered for whistling a white woman.

A cultural preservation organization announced Tuesday that the house he lived in with his mother would receive a share of $3 million in grants distributed to 33 sites and organizations nationwide that are important parts of the history of the American blacks.

A portion of grants from the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will be used to rehabilitate buildings, such as a Mississippi bank founded by businessman Charles Banks; the first black Masonic lodge in North Carolina; and a school in rural Florida for the children of black farmhands and laborers.

The money will also help restore the Virginia home where tennis coach Dr. Robert Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson helped turn black athletes like Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson into champions; rehabilitate the Blue Bird Inn in Detroit considered the cradle of bebop jazz; and protect and preserve black cemeteries in Pennsylvania and on a small island off the coast of South Carolina.

Brent Leggs, executive director of the organization, which is in its fifth year of awarding the grants, said the effort aims to fill “some gaps in the nation’s understanding of the civil rights movement.”

The brutality of Till’s murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement. The Chicago home where Grandma Till Mobley and her son lived will receive funding for a project manager to oversee restoration efforts, including renovating the second floor to what it looked like when the Tills lived there.

“This house is a sacred treasure from our perspective, and our goal is to restore and reinvent it as an international heritage pilgrimage destination,” said Naomi Davis, executive director of Blacks in Green, an organization in local nonprofit that bought the house in 2020. She said the plan is to time its 2025 opening to coincide with that of the Obama Presidential Library a few miles away.

Leggs said it was especially important to do something that enlightens Grandma Till Mobley. After his 14-year-old son was lynched, Till Mobley insisted on having his coffin opened for his visitation and funeral, to show what his battered body looked like when it was pulled from a river – to show the world what racism looked like.

It was an exhibit that influenced thousands of mourners who laid the casket and millions more who saw the photographs in Jet magazine – including Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus from Montgomery, Alabama to a white man about three months later remains one of the pivotal acts of defiance in American history.

“It was a catalyzing moment in the civil rights movement, and through it, we’re uplifting and honoring black women in civil rights,” Leggs said.

The news of the grant follows a recent revelation that an unissued warrant was discovered to arrest the woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose charge led to the teenager’s lynching.

Till’s Chicago home and the story of his open casket highlight the risks that the remains of such a story could disappear if not protected. The Victorian red brick built over a century earlier fell into disrepair as recently as 2019 when it was sold to a developer, until it was granted landmark status by the city of Chicago. And the glass-topped coffin that held Till’s remains was only donated to the Smithsonian Institution after it was found in 2009 rusting in a cemetery shed in suburban Chicago, where it had been left after the exhumation of the teenager’s body years earlier.

This discovery of the coffin, which happened solely because of a scandal at the cemetery, highlights how important pieces of history can easily disappear, said Annie Wright, whose late husband, Simeon, slept next door. of his cousin Emmett the night the Chicago teenager was kidnapped.

“We have to remember what happened, and if we don’t say it, if people don’t see [the house]they will forget — and we don’t want to forget the tragedy in these United States,” Wright, 76, said.


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