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World & Nation

A new memorial is erected to Emmett Till — and this one is bulletproof

This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.
This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.
(Associated Press)

A new bulletproof memorial to Emmett Till was dedicated Saturday in Mississippi after previous historical markers were repeatedly vandalized.

The brutal slaying of the 14-year-old black teenager helped spur the civil rights movement more than 60 years ago.

The 14-year-old African American teen was kidnapped, beaten and killed in 1955, hours after he was accused of whistling at a white woman. His body was found in a river days later. An all-white jury in Mississippi acquitted two white men of murder charges. An investigation into the case was reopened by the Department of Justice in 2018 after previous efforts to review the crime had come up empty.

The investigation into the death of Emmett Till, one of the most notorious slayings of the Jim Crow-era Deep South, has been reopened more than 60 years after the 14-year-old African American boy’s mutilated body was pulled out of Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River.

Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, said the new marker was dedicated Saturday.

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Members of Till’s family attended the ceremony at the site where the teen’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River.

This is the fourth historical marker at the site. Previous ones became a target for vandals.

The first historical marker was placed in 2008. Someone tossed it in the river. The second and third signs were shot at and left riddled with bullet holes.

The new 500-pound steel sign has a glass bulletproof front, Weems said.

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Weems said the markers were placed as an attempt to acknowledge the truth of what happened there with the hope of sparking “new conversations.”

“For 50 years nobody talked about Emmett Till,” Weems said.

“I think we just have to be resilient and know there are folks out there that don’t want to know this history or who want to erase the history. We are just going to be resilient in continuing to put them back up and be truthful in making make sure that Emmett didn’t die in vain.”

Two of Till’s cousins, the Rev. Wheeler Parker and Ollie Gordon, attended the ceremony, Weems said.

In 2004, the Justice Department reopened the case after a documentary filmmaker claimed as many as 14 individuals were involved. But the department decided not to bring charges, arguing that the five-year statute of limitation on federal civil rights violations had expired.

In 2007, the department referred the case to Mississippi prosecutors. However, a grand jury declined to bring a manslaughter indictment against the woman who made — and later partially recanted — the allegations against Till, Carolyn Bryant Donham.


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