Commemorating Emmett Till

Commemorating Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley

The tragic murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in August 1955 catalyzed the US Civil Rights Movement. Till was visiting family in Mississippi when he was kidnapped, tortured, and lynched for whistling at a white woman in a grocery store. In the trial that followed, an all-white jury deliberated for just one hour and acquitted his murderers, who later admitted their crime in a magazine interview.

Mamie Till-Mobley insisted on a public, open-casket memorial service for her son at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, saying, “There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see.” This brave and painful decision forced the nation to confront the horrors and violence of racism and galvanized people to action across the country.

Since 2018, our lawyers have worked in partnership with the Emmett Till Interpretive Center (ETIC), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), and members of the Till family to advocate for historic sites in Mississippi and Illinois connected to the legacies of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley to be added to the National Park System. On July 25, 2023, President Joseph Biden designated a new national monument to commemorate Emmett Till and his mother. The newly announced monument will feature three sites in two states, and will ensure that future generations continue to learn from this important chapter of civil rights history.

Led by partner Nikki Buffa, former associate Peter Viola, and associate Kennedy Holmes, Latham has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that Till’s legacy — and its painful lessons — live on. This work has included helping introduce bipartisan legislation, engaging with the US Department of the Interior, and supporting ETIC and its partners as they restore places like the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, where Till’s killers were tried. Today, the courthouse has been restored as a museum, which ETIC uses to educate visitors about Till and his mother — and civil rights history more broadly. Restoring sites like the Tallahatchie County Courthouse is vital to preserving history and cultural memory. If sites disappear, so will the powerful stories they tell.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a trail that is part of the national parks so that we can make sure these sites and the stories they represent live forever,” said Patrick Weems, Executive Director of ETIC. “These historical sites play an important role in the truth and reconciliation process needed in order for us to heal as a country.”

Article updated January 25, 2024

Banner photo credit: Dr. Pablo Correa

Commemorating Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley