The original glass-topped casket that held the battered body of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American boy brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955, will be given to the National Museum of African American History and Culture
. The donation will be announced prior to a memorial service at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, the site of the 1955 funeral, Friday, Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of Tills death.
A young boy from Chicago, Till was killed by white men during a visit to his great-uncle Moses Wrights house in Money, Miss. While the precise details of Tills actions remain unclear, he was perceived to have offended a white woman, and thus crossed the racial boundaries of 1955 Mississippi. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, had her son laid out in the glass-topped casket so the world could see what they did to my boy. He was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery in suburban Chicago. The body was exhumed for an autopsy in 2005 during another criminal investigation into his murder, and Till was reburied in another coffin.
The glass-topped coffin was found in poor condition in a storage shed on the cemetery grounds during a police search last month, following the arrest of cemetery employees accused of digging up more than 300 graves and reselling the plots. Tills plot was undisturbed.
Tills murder and the images of his body, first published in Jet magazine and carried around the world by the news media, are considered by historians to be the beginning of the civil rights movement in America.
We are both honored and humbled that the Till family has entrusted this sacred object to the museum for preservation and safekeeping, said Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the museum. The death of Emmett Till shocked the conscience of the world and fueled the civil rights movement. It is our duty to ensure that this iconic artifact is preserved so that we will never forget.
Simeon Wright, 66, who was with his cousin Till on the night of the murder, led the familys efforts to donate the casket. If we didnt have this casket, no one would ever believe this could happen in America, Wright said. Some people would say this is just a wooden box, scuffed up on the outside and stained on the inside. But this very particular box tells a story, lots of stories. And by sending it to the Smithsonians African American museum weEmmetts few remaining relativesare doing what we can to make sure those stories get told long after were gone.
The deed of gift notes that the family is making the donation In memory of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley.
The casket will be transported by truck to Washington, D.C. Its condition will be assessed by conservation staff at the Smithsonians Museum Support Center, where it will be housed.