Emmett Till House, black sites for preservation funds
Part of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant will be used to rehabilitate buildings, such as a bank in Mississippi founded by a man described by Booker T. Washington as “the most influential businessman in the United States,” the first black Masonic Lodge in North Carolina and a school in rural Oklahoma for the children of black farmhands and laborers.
The money will also help restore the Virginia home where a tennis coach helped turn black athletes such as Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson into champions, rehabilitate the Blue Bird Inn in Detroit, considered the birthplace of bebop jazz , and to protect and preserve African-American cemeteries. in Pennsylvania and a small island off the coast of South Carolina.
Brent Leggs, executive director of the organization, which is in its fifth year of awarding the grants, said the effort aims to fill “some gaps in the nation’s understanding of the civil rights movement.”
Till’s brutal murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement. The Chicago home where Grandma Till Mobley and her son lived will receive funding for a project manager to oversee restoration efforts, including renovating the second floor to what it looked like when the Tills lived there.
“This house is a sacred treasure from our perspective and our goal is to restore and reinvent it as an international heritage pilgrimage destination,” said Naomi Davis, executive director of Blacks in Green, a grassroots group in nonprofit that purchased the home in 2020. She said the plan is to time the 2025 opening with that of the Obama Presidential Library a few miles away.
Leggs said it was especially important to do something that enlightens Grandma Till Mobley. After his 14-year-old son was lynched, Till Mobley insisted his body be displayed in an open coffin as it was when he was pulled from a river, to show the world what racism looked like.
It was an exhibit that influenced thousands of mourners who laid the casket and millions more who saw the photographs in Jet Magazine – including Rosa Parks whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, in Alabama to a white man about three months later remains one of the defining acts of defiance in American history.
“It was a catalyzing moment in the civil rights movement and through it we are uplifting and honoring black women in civil rights,” Leggs said.
And the news follows a recent revelation about the discovery of an outstanding warrant for the arrest of the woman whose charge sparked the chain of events that led to the teenager’s lynching.
The house and the coffin story highlight the risks that the remains of such a story could disappear if not protected. As recently as 2019, when it was sold to a developer, the red-brick Victorian home built more than a century earlier was falling into disrepair before gaining Chicago city landmark status. . And the glass-topped coffin that held Till’s remains was only donated to the Smithsonian Institution because it was discovered in 2009 rusting in a shed in a suburban Chicago cemetery where it was dumped. after the teenager’s body was exhumed years earlier.
This discovery of the coffin, which only happened because of a scandal at the cemetery, highlights how important pieces of history can simply disappear, said Annie Wright, whose late husband, Simeon, was sleeping with his cousin, Emmett, the night he was abducted.
“We have to remember what happened and if we don’t say it, if people don’t see (the house) they will forget and we don’t want to forget the tragedy in the United States,” Wright said. , 76 years old.