A bill to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, is headed to President Joe Biden’s desk after the U.S. House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 450 on Dec. 21, 2022. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award the body gives.
On Aug. 28, 1955, a group of white men in Money, Miss., brutally murdered Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, for allegedly whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. His mother, who later died in 2013 at age 81, insisted on an open-casket burial at the time and became an activist and leading voice against race violence in America.
“The people of the United States honor the legacy of Emmett Till and the incredible suffering and equally incredible courage, resilience, and efforts of Mamie Till-Mobley that led to the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s,” Senate Bill 450 says.
President Joe Biden had, in March 2022, signed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act making lynching a federal hate crime. Members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation in collaboration with filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, on June 21, 2022, discovered a 1955 warrant for Carolyn Bryant’s arrest over her alleged involvement with Till’s kidnapping. A Leflore County grand jury, however, declined to indict the 88-year-old, whose name is now Carolyn Bryant Donham, in August. Beauchamp, who is on the advisory board of the Mississippi Free Press, joined others to release a film in October titled “Till,” on the mother’s advocacy for never-served justice for her son.
‘The Challenge We Still Face’
The Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley Institute Board President Christopher Benson, in a press release on Thursday, described the impact of Till’s lynching on the “modern civil rights” movement and hailed the boy’s mother’s “determination in confronting racial violence and the political system that enabled it.”
“We see this award as recognition that her story is a part of our shared American history and the challenge we still face in this contemporary moment,” he said.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., sponsored the House of Representatives’ version of the Senate Bill together with Don Bacon, R-Neb. The list of co-sponsors for both bills included all six Mississippi congressional members in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
‘Acknowledge Their Lives and Sacrifices’
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., French Hill, R-Ark., and Rep. Danni K. Davis, D-Ill., reflected on the death of Emmett Till and its impact on the nation during the debate on the Senate Bill on the House floor on Dec. 21.
“I remember when it took place—I was 16 years old at the time,” Waters said. “The parents and the leaders of our community made sure that all of the children in our communities, in our schools, in our churches knew what had happened, and they made sure that we understood what was going on in this country at that time, and we are never to forget what happened to Emmett Till and what happened to so many others when lynching was a way of life.”
In her speech on the House floor, Waters described what happened that August in Money, Miss.
“It was not long ago that Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American child from Chicago, visited his family in Money, Mississippi,” she said. “Shortly after his arrival, he was kidnapped, beaten, mutilated and shot in the head.”
“His murderers then sunk his body in a river with a cotton-gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire,” she said. “Mamie issued an open invitation to her young son’s funeral; 50,000 people heeded the call and were moved by the devastating effects that racism, prejudice, and hate had on Emmett’s body and his very life.”
“She allowed Jet Magazine to photograph Emmett in his casket, ensuring that all of America would have an image of her son to galvanize a nation against the horrors of lynching and illuminate the need for the civil rights of all.”
Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., the last living witness to Till’s kidnapping who came with him from Chicago to Money, Miss., that summer, said in the Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley Institute press release: “The Congressional Gold Medal will further acknowledge their lives and sacrifices, and keep their legacy alive.”
‘The Brutality of the Jim Crow South’
Rep. Hill noted that less than two weeks after Till’s burial, an all-white jury “deliberated for less than an hour and issued a not guilty verdict” for the murderers, who later confessed to the crime in exchange for a $4,000 reward for an interview.
“Despite a lack of immediate justice for this brutal murder, Emmett’s mother, Mamie, never stopped drawing attention to her son’s murder, as demonstrated by all of us here today; the Till trial brought to light the brutality of the Jim Crow south,” Hill said.
The Senate bill outlined Till-Mobley’s efforts seeking redress for her son’s murder, including co-founding the Emmett Till Justice Campaign with late activist Alvin Sykes.
Based on the campaign, Congress passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 and the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016.
“This Congressional Gold Medal will remain housed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture as a gift of the Till family to the museum, which also displays Emmett’s casket,” the Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley Institute said.