New Bulletproof Memorial to Emmett Till Replaces Vandalized Sign in Mississippi

A new bulletproof memorial to honor Emmett Till was unveiled in Mississippi on October 19.

The new memorial is a 500-pound bulletproof sign placed at the spot where Till was found dead in the Tallahatchie River, the same location where three previous signs were vandalized and destroyed, Patrick Weems, the Director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, told USA Today. Till’s family and other civil rights activists gathered at the unveiling ceremony to see the new sign.

“We understand that racial reconciliation begins by telling the truth. Our historical marker’s allow a first step towards that truth telling process. Sadly, there are still those who want to deny the events of 1955. We cannot change our past but we have a responsibility to tell our stories together so we can move forward together with a shared future.” Weems said in a statement.

Till, a Black teenager from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi in August 1955 when he stopped at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. While he was there, he encountered Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. It isn’t clear if Till interacted with Bryant, but four days later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half brother, J.W. Milam, beat, shot, and lynched the 14-year-old boy. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River and the white men involved in his death were acquitted of the murder.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, had her son’s casket open during his funeral to show the brutal violence her teenage son had endured. The killing of the teenager helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.

The memorial signs dedicated to Till by the Tallahatchie River have been destroyed before. When the first sign went up in 2007, it was stolen, CNN previously reported. A new sign replaced the stolen sign and in 2016, the sign dedicated to the Black 14-year-old was ruined by 317 bullet holes.

A third sign dedicated to Till replaced the bullet-riddled sign in 2018. In July, three students from the University of Mississippi were suspended from their fraternity after a photo of them surfaced on social media of the three posing with guns in front of the sign, which was covered in bullet holes. The photo was first discovered by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica on July 25 after the image had circulated on social media platforms. It remains unclear if the students were the ones who shot at the memorial sign.

In a previous statement to The North Star, Rod Guajardo, the University of Mississippi spokesman, said university officials became aware of the photo in March after it was reported to the Bias Incident Response Team, which was then referred to the university’s police department. Although US Attorney Chad Lamar told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica that the case was under investigation, Guajardo said the photo was reported to the FBI “which reported back to [University of Mississippi Police Department] that it declined to investigate further because the photo did not pose a specific threat.”

“While the image is offensive, it did not present a violation of [the] university code of conduct,” Guajardo said in the statement. “It occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event.”

Larry D. Sparks, Interim Chancellor at the university, previously wrote in a statement to The North Star that because the incident did not occur on campus there is not much the university can do.

“The incident occurred off campus, did not rise to the level of a threat per federal authorities, and was not part of any university-affiliated event. As a community of learning and a state institution, we have limits on the tools available to remedy this offensive behavior,” the statement reads.

Despite this, Jesse Lyons, the assistant executive director of the Kappa Alpha Order’s national office in Lexington, Virginia took matters into his own hands and suspended the students from the fraternity.

“The making of the photo was unrelated to any event or activity of the chapter. It is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable. It does not represent our Kappa Alpha Order,” Lyons previously said in a statement to CBS News.

Till’s case is still open, according to a report in September that the Department of Justice made to Congress, which disclosed which civil rights investigations are still active. The case was reopened after the release of Timothy B. Tyson’s book titled The Blood of Emmett Till, where it stated that a key witness had lied during the case. In the book, Carolyn Bryant Donham admitted in 2008 that she had lied about Till making sexual advances toward her in the convenience store.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.