Because she was just two years old when her family moved to Illinois from Mississippi, Mamie Till-Mobley (1921-2003) only heard stories of Jim Crow laws and lynching in the South. She didn’t expect that she or her son would be victims of racial violence. Sadly, in the summer of 1955, Mamie’s son Emmett was kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered during a visit to Mississippi. When her son’s body arrived in Chicago, Mamie was not going to simply sit alone and mourn. She courageously insisted on having Emmet’s casket open at his wake and funeral so that everyone could see the violence he had endured. She asked a photographer from Jet to take pictures of the open casket for publication in the national magazine.
After her son’s funeral, Mamie traveled to Mississippi to testify at the trial of the white men accused of killing Emmett. The men’s acquittal fueled Mamie’s righteous anger and she began speaking at NAACP rallies—33 cities in 19 states in 31 days. The speeches of Mamie Till were the spark that the nascent civil rights movement needed and proved to be a turning point in the battle for racial justice.
Mamie Till married Gene Mobley, earned degrees from the Chicago Teachers College and Loyola University and worked as a teacher for 23 years. In her autobiography, she wrote, “Although I have lived so much of my life without Emmett, I have lived my entire life because of him.” Mother and son were posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in January 2022.
Why this stop? The 63rd/Cottage Grove Green Line stop is a 9 minute walk from the home where Mamie and Emmett Till lived.
Learn more about Mamie Till-Mobley on the series Women of the Movement (ABC and Hulu).
Photo — Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Mamie Till Mobley family