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Photo: Everett Collection Historical
After his murder, Emmett Till's mother made sure his life was never forgotten. Photo: Everett Collection Historical

Senate passes bill to award Emmett Till and mother posthumous Congressional Gold Medal

The bill was first introduced in September 2020 by Senators Cory Booker and Richard Burr.

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On Monday, Jan. 11, the Senate passed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Emmett Till, the Chicago teenager murdered by white supremacists in the 1950s, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley.

Till was abducted, tortured and killed after witnesses claimed he whistled at a white woman at a grocery store in rural Mississippi, a violation of the South’s racist societal codes at the time. In return, he was rousted out of bed and kidnapped from a great-uncle’s home in the pre-dawn hours four days later.

Sens. Cory Booker and Richard Burr first introduced the bill in September 2020 to honor Till and his mother with the highest civilian honor that Congress awards. They said the legislation is a long overdue recognition of what the family endured and what they achieved in fighting against injustice. 

The House version of the legislation is sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush, who also sponsored a bill to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Mamie Till-Mobley. 

“At the age of 14, Emmett Till was abducted and lynched at the hands of white supremacists. His gruesome murder still serves as a solemn reminder of the terror and violence experienced by Black Americans throughout our nation’s history,” Booker said. 

Till’s killing ignited the civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted on an open casket funeral and Jet Magazine published photos of his brutalized body. The more than 50,000 attendees saw the violence her son was subjected to. 

When asked why she wanted an open casket, Till-Mobley famously responded: “The whole nation had to bear witness to this.” 

Till-Mobley became a teacher and a civil rights activist. Two days after the funeral, she was on a stage before 10,000 people in Harlem, NYC. She then agreed to go on tour with the NAACP, which organized a series of events around Till’s story. 

Till-Mobley never stopped fighting for justice for her son, and died in 2003. 

A few weeks after Emmett’s funeral, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama, saying that she found herself unable to move because she was thinking about Emmett. 

Eight years later, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the nation from Washington, D.C., with his “I Have a Dream” speech

Six decades later, Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman who accused Till of sexual harassment, came clean and admitted that her story was not true. Donham told this truth to historian Timothy B. Tyson, and he shared this in his book, The Blood of Emmett Till, which was published in 2017. 

“More than six decades after his murder, I am proud to see the Senate pass long-overdue legislation that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to both Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobley in recognition of their profound contributions to our nation,” Booker said. 

The Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to dozens as a sign of its "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions," according to the U.S. House of Representatives' website.

Last month, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in Afghanistan during August's evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals.

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