Mississippi town unveils larger-than-life statue memorializing Emmett Till

The town of Greenwood, Mississippi, unveiled and dedicated a larger-than-life statue of Emmett Till, the Black teen whose murder catalyzed the 20th-century civil rights movement, on Oct. 21.

The 1955 kidnapping and killing of a 14-year-old boy following allegations that he had whistled at a white woman in a country store became an important part of American history after his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, had an open-casket funeral. Jet magazine published images of his mutilated body, bringing awareness of the injustice to the country.

But the men who did the deed, Roy Bryant (the woman’s husband) and J.W. Milan (his half-brother), were acquitted in a court of law. However, they later took money from Look Magazine to tell their story and confessed that they had done the horrific deed. Meanwhile, the woman involved, Carol Bryant, later also confessed that the most sensational parts of her testimony — that the boy had grabbed her and verbally threatened her — were untrue.

Emmett Till
AP Photo/File

The new statue in Rail Spike Park is a 9-foot bronze representation that shows Till in slacks, a dress shirt and tie, with one hand touching the brim of his hat.

The surrounding area of Leflore County is about 70% Black, but it still took state officials years to get the statue erected. Mississippi state Sen. David Jordan was finally able to get $150,000 in state funding to commission a statue this year, from Utah artist Matt Glen.

“I feel that when young people ask me what the memory of Emmett Till is, we have this statue as a memory,” Jordan told ABC News. “He liberated all Black people for all that he sacrificed.”

The Friday dedication featured workers pulling the tarp off the statue to the tune “Wake Up, Everybody,” a rhythm and blues song originally recorded by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Hundreds of people showed up to watch the event, including local students and dignitaries (his only living family member, the Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., was unable to travel from Illinois for the ceremony).

Emmett Till Statue
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

“I hope it shows that we can’t change the past, but we can certainly do something about the future,” Mayor Carolyn McAdams said, according to WREG 3. “And so I hope it shows that we are compassionate, we are caring, and this should never, ever happen again.”

CBS reports that the site of the statue is a short drive from a large Confederate monument outside the Leflore County Courthouse, and 10 miles away from the remains of the store, Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, where the initial incident took place.

The unveiling of the statue came a week after the debut of the movie “Till,” which gets a nationwide release on Oct. 28. It also comes six months after the Emmett Till Antilynching Act became a national law. It joins another Till memorial, a 500-pound bulletproof sign in Glendora, Mississippi, that was placed at the site where Till’s body was pulled out of the Tallahatchie river. The crumbling site of Bryant’s store also bears a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker.