Senate Passes Bill Honoring Emmett Till and His Mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, for Sparking Civil Rights Movement

(r-l) Emett Till, 14, was brutally murdered by white supremacist in the 1950s; his mother Mamie Till-Mobley speaking out about racial injustice
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The bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Till and his mother was sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Burr (R-NC). It is the country's highest civilian honor that can be bestowed by Congress.

Nearly six decades after the brutal murder of Emmett Till by white supremacists in the 1950s, Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, have each been posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, which is the country’s highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow, according to a published news report.

The bill to award the medals, sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Burr (R-NC), was passed in the Senate on Tuesday after it was first introduced in 2002 and reintroduced last year. Both described the legislation as “long overdue.” 

Booker said in a statement, in part: "The courage and activism demonstrated by Emmett's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in displaying to the world the brutality endured by her son helped awaken the nation's conscience, forcing America to reckon with its failure to address racism and the glaring injustices that stem from such hatred."

On August 28, 1955, Till was kidnapped, beaten, mutilated, and lynched after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman at a grocery store in rural Mississippi, a violation of the South’s racist societal codes at the time, the Associated Press reported. 

Only 14, Till had been visiting Mississippi from his hometown of Chicago, when the unspeakable tragedy took place.

During his funeral, Till’s grieving mother insisted on having an open casket so everyone can see her son’s battered body. Nearly 50,000 people were in attendance. Jet Magazine published photos of the young Till in his coffin. The outrage spurred the national civil rights movement. 

Months after Till’s death, the killers, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were acquitted by an all-white jury, despite Till’s uncle’s eyewitness testimony, People previously reported.

In Jan. 1956, both men, who have since died, reportedly confessed to the crime in Look magazine. 

Till’s accuser, Carolyn Bryant Donham, testified at the trial and while her allegations were documented and shared with reporters by her attorneys, they were never heard by the jury, People reported. 

In 2017, Donham, who accused Till of whistling at her and attempting to grab her hand and waist, recanted her story, the news outlet previously reported. 

After her son’s death, Till-Mobley's life mission became honoring her son and addressing the country’s racial injustice. She co-founded the Emmett Till Justice Campaign that prompted the State of Mississippi, the FBI, and the Department of Justice to reinvestigate the murder of her son.

In 2003, Till-Mobley passed away at the age of 81. Though she never saw the fruits of her labors, her legacy continued on.

In 2007, her campaign helped pass the ‘Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007,’ which ensures the Justice Department and FBI investigate cold cases from the civil rights era.

Rep. Bobby Rush, (D-Ill.)  also sponsored a companion bill to issue a commemorative postage stamp in Mamie Till-Mobley’s honor, the AP reported. 

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