Los Angeles Times

Emmett Till’s home shares in Black heritage grant

Cultural preservati­on group gives $3 million to save the Chicago house and other sites.


CHICAGO — Emmett Till left his home on Chicago’s South Side in 1955 to visit relatives in Mississipp­i, where the Black teenager was abducted and brutally slain for reportedly whistling at a white woman.

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

Some of the grant money from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will go to rehabilita­te buildings, such as a bank in Mississipp­i founded by businessma­n Charles Banks; the first Black Masonic lodge in North Carolina; and a school in rural Florida for the children of Black farmworker­s and laborers.

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

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

The brutality of Till’s slaying helped galvanize the civil rights movement. The Chicago home where Mamie Till Mobley and her son lived will receive funding for a project director 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 it and reinvent it as an internatio­nal heritage pilgrimage destinatio­n,” said Naomi Davis, executive director of Blacks in Green, a 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 is particular­ly important to do something that shines a light on Mamie Till Mobley. After her 14-year-old son’s lynching, Till Mobley insisted that his casket be open for his visitation and funeral, to show how his battered body looked when it was pulled from a river — to show the world what racism looked like.

It was a display that influenced thousands of mourners who filed by the casket and the millions more who saw the photograph­s in Jet magazine — one of whom was Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man about three months later remains one of the pivotal acts of defiance in American history.

“It was a catalytic moment in the civil rights movement, and through this we lift and honor Black women in civil rights,” Leggs said.

The news of the grant follows a recent revelation about the discovery of an unserved warrant to arrest the woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusation led to the teen’s lynching.

Till’s Chicago home and the story of his open casket highlight the risks that the remnants of such history can vanish if not protected. The red brick Victorian built more than a century earlier was falling 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 casket that held Till’s remains was donated to the Smithsonia­n Institutio­n only after it was found in 2009 rusting in a suburban Chicago cemetery shed, where it had been left after the teen’s body was exhumed years earlier.

That discovery of the casket, which happened only because of a scandal at the cemetery, underscore­s how easily significan­t pieces of history can disappear, said Annie Wright, whose late husband, Simeon, was asleep next to his cousin Emmett the night the Chicago teen was abducted.

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

 ?? Anthony Vazquez Chicago Sun-Times ?? THE CHICAGO HOME’S restoratio­n is meant to honor Mamie Till Mobley and son Emmett. Her insistence on an open casket helped inspire civil rights activists.
Anthony Vazquez Chicago Sun-Times THE CHICAGO HOME’S restoratio­n is meant to honor Mamie Till Mobley and son Emmett. Her insistence on an open casket helped inspire civil rights activists.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States