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Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who insisted on an open-casket funeral for her son, are one step closer to being posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medals, the country’s highest civilian honor, more than 60 years after his assassination by white supremacists in the 1950s.
A bill sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker and Richard Burr to posthumously honor Till and Till-Mobley was first introduced in 2020 and reintroduced last year. On Tuesday, the legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to mother and son passed in the Senate.
“At the age of 14, Emmett Till was abducted and lynched at the hands of white supremacists,” Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, expressed his delight at the bill’s passage. “His gruesome murder still serves as a solemn reminder of the terror and violence experienced by Black Americans throughout our nation’s history.”
A Chicago native, the 14-year-old Till was savagely attacked for allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman in rural Mississippi, where he was visiting family members during the summer. Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s house four days later, assaulted, maimed, and lynched by two white men.
He was thrown into the Tallahatchie River with a giant metal fan wound around his neck with barbed wire.
Despite his uncle’s firsthand testimony, Till’s murderers, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were acquitted by an all-white jury months later.
Till-Mobley pushed for an open casket funeral for her son that had an attendance of 50,000 people. Later, images of his body were published in Jet magazine, igniting the civil rights movement.
The educator and activist spent the rest of her life fighting for a re-investigation of her son’s murder by the state of Mississippi, the FBI, and the Department of Justice, co-founding the Emmett Till Justice Campaign.
“The courage and activism demonstrated by Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in displaying to the world the brutality endured by her son helped awaken the nation’s conscience, forcing America to reckon with its failure to address racism and the glaring injustices that stem from such hatred,” Booker stated.
Her legacy went on after she died in 2003 at the age of 81.
The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 was passed with the support of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign in 2007, ensuring that the Justice Department and FBI examine cold cases from the civil rights period.
Rep. Bobby Rush presented a companion bill in the House last July.
Let the World See, a new docuseries about Till-Mobley’s journey from government employee to civil rights activist and educator, airs tonight on ABC.
Ollie Gordon, Till-Mobley’s cousin, told PEOPLE in a recent interview about the series that the death of Emmett served as “inspiration” for her to continue her struggle for fair justice.
“I often heard [Till-Mobley] say, ‘Well, what do I have to lose? They’ve taken everything from me. That was the motivation to pick up the torch and continue to fight and advocate for justice and advocate for peace for her son,” Gordon said.
“Not just for Emmett, but for all of the lives that have been lost at the hands of bigotry and racism. That was her fight, that was her mission.”
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