A sign honoring Emmett Till was found riddled with more than 40 bullet holes. Kevin Wilson Jr., a filmmaker who is working on a short film on Till, made the discovery; the incident garnered attention when Wilson posted about it on Facebook.
“I’m at the exact site where Emmett Till’s body was found floating in the Tallahatchie River 61 years ago,” he wrote. “The site marker is filled with bullet holes. Clear evidence that we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Till was a 14-year-old Black boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The Chicago native, who was visiting relatives at the time, was kidnapped, mutilated and shot. His body was found floating in a river several days after he went missing. The perpetrators, who eventually confessed their crimes, were acquitted by an all-white jury.
Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted that Till’s casket be open at his funeral so people could see exactly what happened to her son. Pictures of young Till’s mutilated body shocked the nation. Till’s death was a pivotal event of the Civil Rights Movement and brought to the forefront issues of racial injustice.
The memorial sign is located in Mississippi at the spot Till’s body was found.
“I was very emotional. I did not expect to see the site, the marker, with bullet holes in it,” Wilson said to WJTV. “That marker was just evidence that there are people who are still living in those areas who still hold those ideologies dear to their heart. Ideologies that we’re trying to get away from.”
Robert E. Huddleston, a Democratic state representative and member of the area’s local NAACP chapter, questioned why people continue to harbor “so much hatred.”
“This child died in 1955 and people still have so much hatred,” he said to ABC News. “Why do they feel the need to keep on killing him again and again”
Glendora, Mississippi, Mayor Johnny B. Thomas called for unity to move forward from the hate-filled act of vandalism.
“When I see hatred like this it makes me want to work that much harder to rebuild it, begin healing, and get members of the Caucasian community to join us in that effort to heal,” Thomas said. “When the descendants of those who perpetrated slavery here and Jim Crow laws stand up against this sort of vandalism it means so much more … When they join in rejecting this we can move forward.”
Thomas’ father may have had a possible connection to Till’s murder. Both Thomas and his father are Black. According to Thomas, a long history of racial tension exists in the area.
Till’s legacy and important place in Civil Rights Movement history remains just as relevant today as in 1955. Many people have drawn comparisons between Till and Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager who was gunned down in Florida.
This year’s presidential election has also made evident that racial tensions are still alive and well today. With Republican candidate Trump telling his supporters that the election is “rigged” and calling for them to monitor “certain areas,” schools in numerous states, including Illinois, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, will be closed on Election Day for fear of potential violence, the Associated Press reported.
“If anybody can sit there and say they don’t think this is a contentious election, then they aren’t paying much attention,” said Ed Tolan, a police chief in Maine.
It is not yet clear if Mississippi in particular plans to close any schools on November 8.
Till Memorials Repeated Targets for Vandals
The Emmett Till Memorial Commission initially put up the sign memorializing Till in 2008, and it has served as a repeated target for vandalism.
The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, started a fundraiser to have the sign replaced and has already raised more than enough money to replace it. The organization estimated the sign would cost between $1,400 and $2,000 to replace but has already raised an estimated $20,000.
Director of the center Patrick Weems said the outstanding response was unprecedented: “In doing this work for 10 years and now seeing this outpouring from people who want to see Emmett Till’s memory sustained, that is incredible.”
The leftover money will be used to honor Till’s memory in other ways, the Clarion Ledger reported.
“It’s always been a dream of ours to create a permanent site by the river so people could pray or be mindful,” Weems said.
Unfortunately, memorials and other markers are often vandalism targets, according to Dave Tell, a University of Kansas professor who is involved with the Emmett Till Memory Project.
“These are easy targets, a low-risk outlet for racism,” he said, adding that some people inaccurately view “civil rights monuments as a form of reverse discrimination, a threat to their own well-being.”
In addition to the previous instance of vandalism of the memorial sign, other sites honoring Till have been targeted as well. Emmett Till Memorial Highway, which spans 32 miles over U.S. 49 East, was targeted in 2006, at which time vandals painted “KKK” on the sign.