LAND­MARK DE­CI­SION

Com­mis­sion grants pre­lim­i­nary des­ig­na­tion to Em­mett Till’s home on 65th an­niver­sary of teen’s his­toric open-cas­ket fu­neral

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA, STAFF RE­PORTER miejirika@sun­times.com | @maud­lynei

Em­mett Till’s home on the South Side was granted pre­lim­i­nary land­mark sta­tus Thurs­day — on the same date that the teen’s his­toric open-cas­ket fu­neral was held 65 years ago.

The Com­mis­sion on Chicago Land­marks voted unan­i­mously to give the pres­ti­gious sta­tus to the home at 6427 S. St. Lawrence Ave., where Till lived be­fore that fate­ful trip down South end­ing with his bru­tal lynch­ing on Aug. 28, 1955.

It’s a bit­ter­sweet mile­stone in the years-long jour­ney of preser­va­tion­ists and the Till fam­ily to land­mark the home of the youth whose mur­der pro­pelled the civil rights move­ment.

It comes a week af­ter last Fri­day’s 65th an­niver­sary of the sem­i­nal Amer­i­can tragedy.

“I am grate­ful for the ef­forts to pre­serve the mem­ory of my cousin Em­mett Till. He speaks from the grave,” Till’s cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker, 81, of Sum­mit wrote in his tes­ti­mony read to com­mis­sion­ers.

While vis­it­ing rel­a­tives in Money, Mis­sis­sippi, the 14-year-old was kid­napped from his un­cle’s home in the mid­dle of the night, for al­legedly whistling at a white woman at a gro­cery store.

Till’s bat­tered body was re­cov­ered three days later from the Tal­la­hatchie River, barbed wire wrapped around his neck, face beaten be­yond recog­ni­tion, his body weighted down with a cot­ton gin fan.

“Sixty-five years ago, he was bru­tally mur­dered, and no one has paid for it. Jus­tice can have many faces, and pre­serv­ing the home of Em­mett Till is a face of jus­tice. He de­serves to be re­mem­bered in this pos­i­tive way,” wrote Parker, the last liv­ing wit­ness to the hor­rific events of 1955.

At age 16, Parker had ac­com­pa­nied Till on the train from Chicago, was with him at the gro­cery store and in the home that night when Till was ab­ducted at gun­point.

Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were ac­quit­ted at trial of mur­der­ing Till, later con­fess­ing to the filthy deed in the Jan. 24, 1956, is­sue of Look Mag­a­zine. Six decades later, Carolyn Bryant Don­ham ad­mit­ted she’d lied and that the teen had done noth­ing, in an in­ter­view for the 2017 book “The Blood of Em­mett Till.”

Plans for Till’s home, a 2,308-square-foot, brick two-flat, are up in the air.

The cur­rent owner is Blake McCreight of real es­tate in­vest­ment firm BMW Prop­er­ties/ Ex­press Prop­erty So­lu­tions. Join­ing com­mu­nity ac­tivists and oth­ers tes­ti­fy­ing in sup­port of the des­ig­na­tion at the com­mis­sion’s vir­tual meet­ing, McCreight stip­u­lated he is by no means wed­ded to the pro­posed pur­chase by a non­profit in the same ward.

McCreight, who di­vulged he had no idea of the home’s his­tory when he pur­chased it last year, said Blacks In Green founder Naomi Davis — who last Novem­ber es­tab­lished the Mamie Till-Mob­ley For­give­ness Gar­den on the same block — had sub­mit­ted a pur­chase of­fer two days be­fore, seek­ing to turn the home into a mu­seum and gallery space.

McCreight said he now is con­sid­er­ing his op­tions, as the com­mis­sion dan­gled preser­va­tion re­sources avail­able be­fore unan­i­mously vot­ing for the land­marks des­ig­na­tion.

The pro­posal will now wind its way to the City Coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee on Zon­ing, Land­marks and Build­ing Stan­dards be­fore it goes to the full coun­cil for ap­proval. Any owner of the home as of now is pre­vented from de­mo­li­tion or changes to its ex­te­rior.

Roberts Tem­ple Church of God In Christ, where Till’s fu­neral was held on Sept. 3, 1955, was land­marked in 2006. Yet the city had not as­cribed any ur­gency to pre­serv­ing his child­hood home.

“If peo­ple travel to this site, they can imag­ine a 14-year-old boy play­ing and en­joy­ing life.” Till’s cousin, Ol­lie Gor­don, who in 1955 had lived in the home with Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mob­ley, wrote in her own tes­ti­mony to the com­mis­sion.

“Em­mett Till’s legacy will al­ways be vis­i­ble, and his spirit can be felt when vis­it­ing this place. This home rep­re­sents a tan­gi­ble piece of im­por­tant Amer­i­can his­tory, and it is im­por­tant to keep Em­mett Till’s and Mamie Till-Mob­ley’s story alive through this place.”

ABOVE: AN­THONY VAZQUEZ/SUN-TIMES; LEFT: AP FILES

Mamie Till-Mob­ley and her son, Em­mett Till, whose lynch­ing in 1955 be­came a cat­a­lyst for the Civil Rights Move­ment, lived in this build­ing at 6427 S. St. Lawrence Ave.

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