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