Emmett Till’s black, broken body was plucked from the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi days after his killing in August 1955, a heavy cotton gin fan tied on his neck with barbed wire.
It took 19 days for two white men, Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law J.W. Milam, to be acquitted of murder by an all-white jury, which deliberated for less than an hour.
Then it took 52 years for historical markers to be erected at locations related to the teenager’s death, which galvanized the civil rights movement after the acquittal.
And now, at the spot marking where Till’s body was pulled from the river, it took just 35 days since installation for a replacement sign to be pierced by gunfire. Again.
Till was lynched, shot and tortured before his death, and a grim trail of his final moments is marked by signs installed by the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, a museum supported by Tallahatchie County.
But the sign — the third iteration after the first was stolen and the second was destroyed by gunfire — apparently was pierced by four bullets on July 26, five weeks after it was dedicated, center co-founder Patrick Weems said.
The marker has drawn visitors to the site outside Glendora, Miss., the final stop on a civil rights movement driving tour across the Mississippi Delta.
It has also become a beacon for racist expressions of violence, and a signal that work toward justice and equality remains unfinished, Weems told The Washington Post on Sunday.
“We didn’t deal with the root reasons in 1955. And we’re still having to deal with that,” Weems said. “The same systems that allowed these signs to be vandalized are the same systems that allowed Emmett Till to be murdered.”
Till, a 14-year-old visiting from Chicago, was killed after he was accused of whistling at and making sexual advances toward a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, during an interaction at Bryant’s grocery store in Money, Miss. She recanted her story decades later. No one was ever jailed for his death.
Till’s mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, decided to hold an open-casket funeral, and photos of Till’s mangled face published in Jet magazine sparked outrage and mobilization in black communities nationwide.
The moment was so pivotal to the civil rights movement that Till’s casket is displayed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.