Church where Emmett Till funeral was held made into national monument

Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ of Chicago, Illinois.
Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ of Chicago, Illinois. | Screengrab: YouTube/CBS Chicago

The church that held the funeral for Emmett Till, an African American youth whose brutal murder in 1955 helped galvanize the modern Civil Rights Movement, has been made part of a national monument.

Last week, on what would have been Till’s 82nd birthday, President Joe Biden officially established the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument.

The monument includes three sites: Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ of Chicago, Illinois, which was where Till’s funeral was held; Graball Landing in Glendora, Mississippi, which is believed to be where his body was discovered; and the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, which was where Till’s murderers were tried and found not guilty.

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Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement released last week that “it has been my honor to visit the sites that help tell the story of Emmett and Mamie’s lives with the family and community members who loved them.”

“President Biden’s establishment of this national monument is a testament to the strength and bravery of Mamie Till-Mobley to honor her son and ensure that his death was not in vain,” Haaland said.

“We are honored to be entrusted with the responsibility of preserving their stories as part of our enduring effort to pursue a more perfect union.”

The Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., cousin of Till and reportedly the last living witness of his abduction, was quoted in a White House press release last Saturday that the national monument “makes certain that Emmett Till’s life and legacy, along with his mother Mamie Till Mobley’s social action and impact, will live on and be used to inspire others to create a more just and equitable society.”

“We thank President Biden for codifying the national monument and are heartened to know these places will foster empathy, understanding and healing for years to come,” he added.

At present, according to the National Park Service, only the exterior of the Roberts Temple is open to visitors.

In August 1955, two white men beat 14-year-old Till to death after a white woman named Carolyn Bryant Donham claimed that the teenager had whistled at her while she was working at a grocery store.

In September 1955, Till-Mobley decided to have an open-casket funeral service and viewing for her murdered son, with thousands of mourners seeing his brutally battered body.

Outrage over the murder and the acquittal of the two white men responsible for Till’s death helped to fuel nationwide calls for racial equality and the end of segregation in the South.

In 2006, Roberts Temple was designated a City of Chicago landmark and in September 2020, the National Trust for Historic Preservation labeled the church one of the United States’ “most endangered historic places.”

In April, Donham died at age 88 in hospice care in Westlake, Louisiana, with efforts to press charges against her for her role in the Till murder having failed to come to fruition.

In comments given to the Associated Press back in April, Ollie Gordon, a cousin of Till, said that she held mixed feelings about the death of Donham.

“She was never tried in the court of man,” Gordon said. “But I think she was judged by God, and His wrath is more punitive than any judgement or penalty she could have gotten in a courtroom.”

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