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Deborah Watts, standing at the podium and reading while several others stand behind and look on
Debra Watts (center right), Emmett Till’s cousin and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, attended the press conference announcing Aug. 28, 2023, as Emmett Till Day in Jackson, Miss., alongside her daughter, Terry Watts (center left). Photo by Aliyah Veal

Emmett Till 68th Anniversary Commemoration Weekend Kicks Off in the Capital City

The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation has organized a weekend’s worth of events to honor the life of Emmett Till on the 68th anniversary of his death, which served as a turning point in civil-rights history in the United States. Starting on Aug. 25 and ending on Aug. 27, these plans include a screening of Keith Beauchamp’s 2022 film “Till,” an educational tour through Money, Miss., and a worship service honoring Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley.

“You will note that there has been a lot of erasure of history, attempts, at least. We are fighting that, but there’s more educating, enlightening, and making sure we’re empowering our youth, who you will see also throughout this weekend,” family spokesperson Scott McDowell said at a press conference this morning. “We are actually working hand in hand with our youth to make sure people carry this mantle forward and fight injustice where it’s found.”

In 1955, Chicago native Emmett Till, 14, was visiting family in Money, Miss., when he was accused of whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. Roy Bryant, her husband, and J. W. Milam, her brother-in-law, kidnapped Till from his uncle’s home and brutally murdered Till before dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River.

Emmett Till’s murder motivated a number of Black Americans and allies to increase their efforts during the Civil Rights Movement. Photo courtesy Simeon Wright

To kick off the weekend, city and state representatives held a press conference at the capitol building to present proclamations and recognitions to the family of Emmett Till. Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee presented a proclamation honoring the legacy of Emmett Till to the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till’s murder trial and the news coverage helped galvanize many young Black people and allies to join the movement.

“This resolution of the Jackson City Council commemorates the life and legacy of Emmett Till,” Lee said. “Whereas it is our solemn duty to recognize the impact of history’s pivotal moment and individuals who have forever shaped the course of our society. Whereas the life and legacy of Emmett Till stands an enduring testament to the fight against racial prejudice, hatred and injustice.”

Councilwoman Lee also presented a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.

“We acknowledge the pain and trauma that his family and community endured and continue to endure, and we commit to working towards a more just and equitable society for all,” Lee read. “Now, therefore, I, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, do recognize Aug. 28, 2023, as Emmett Till Day in Jackson, Miss., and hope his history continues to work towards a better future for all.”


Black and white photo of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till
Last year, the United States passed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, the first anti-lynching law to pass through Congress. Photo courtesy National Museum of African American History and Culture

Mississippi State Representative for House District 68 Zakiya Summers presented a proclamation to the Till family on behalf of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus. Summers went on to thank the Till family for diligently keeping his legacy alive; the United States Congress for passing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act; and President Biden for signing off and designating new national monuments in Illinois and Mississippi.

“We must not forget,” Mississippi State Representative De’Keither Stamps said. “We must not forget ourselves. We must not disconnect our children from all of history. We must transcend all of our history, good and bad, to the future generations so this will never happen again.”

Deborah Watts, Emmett Till’s cousin and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, and her daughter, Terry Watts, attended to receive the proclamations from the city and state officials. She and Emmett Till are related through their great grandfathers, who were brothers, she explained.

“I’m standing here today in memory and on the shoulders of my cousin, Mamie Till Mobley,” Watts said. “We stand with the next generation, my daughter, Terry Watts, and with my grandchildren as well, who understand the story because we can’t rely on the books that have never been written to contain the history. It’s our family’s legacy, and it’s the country’s as well.”

Angelique Lee, standing at the podium, read proclamations honoring Emmett Till’s life and family on behalf of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and the City of Jackson. Photo courtesy Aliyah Veall

“Till” Producer Keith Beauchamp was in attendance alongside Jalyn Hall, who played Emmett Till in the film. The producer said he hopes the film inspires others to continue telling these important stories and become part of the movement that still exists today.

“The film that you will see, I can’t say more about it because you have to see it and experience it and bear witness as Mamie Till wanted you all to do back in 1955,” Watts said. “It is with great privilege and honor that we have this opportunity to join us over the course of this weekend to experience, to become a part of our family, to become a part of a movement that is connecting the past to the present and the future.”

The Emmett Till 68th Anniversary Commemoration Weekend will run from Friday, Aug. 25, through Sunday, Aug. 27. The Two Mississippi Museums hosted a screening for the movie “Till” that started at 5 p.m. today with a Q&A to follow. For those who miss the screening, the film is available to stream through Amazon Prime and other platforms. 

On Saturday, attendees can buy tickets to attend the Till Trail of Tears Educational Tour in Sumner, Mississippi, from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the trail and to ride the bus can be found here. On Sunday, a worship service will be held at New Hope Baptist Church (1555 Beasley Road, Jackson) at 10 am. For more information and details about the weekend’s events, click here.

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