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Commission on Chicago Landmarks to weigh designation for Emmett Till childhood home

Preservationists and the family of Emmett Till are a step closer in efforts to landmark the Woodlawn home where the teen lived before the trip Down South that ended with his brutal lynching on Aug. 28, 1955. The alderman wrote a letter supporting the designation, which Thursday goes before the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

Preservationists and the family of Emmett Till moved a step closer in efforts to landmark the childhood home of the Chicago teen whose murder propelled the Civil Rights Movement. The alderman formally issued her support, and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks takes up the request Thursday.
Preservationists and the family of Emmett Till moved a step closer in efforts to landmark the childhood home of the Chicago teen whose murder propelled the Civil Rights Movement. The alderman formally issued her support, and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks takes up the request Thursday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Preservationists and the family of Emmett Till moved a step closer in efforts to landmark the childhood home of the Chicago teen whose murder propelled the Civil Rights Movement, as the Commission on Chicago Landmarks takes up the request Thursday.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20), whose ward includes the home at 6427 S. St. Lawrence where Till spent the last years of his life, submitted a long awaited letter in support of the effort on Friday, which was the 65th anniversary of the seminal event in America’s race history.

In a visit to family in Money, Mississippi, the teen was kidnapped from his uncle’s home on Aug. 28, 1955, for allegedly whistling at a white woman at a grocery store. His body was recovered on Aug. 31, 1955, from the Tallahatchie River, barbed wire wrapped around his neck, face beaten beyond recognition, his body weighted down with a cotton gin fan.

“I write in full support of a Chicago landmark designation for the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley House. I support an accelerated schedule to consider this,” Taylor wrote in her letter to city Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox. “Such a schedule might also see us getting to final approval of the designation during Black History Month in February 2021.”

Taylor said she finally heard from the Till family, which she’d said was the only holdup.

Plans for the 2,308-square-foot, brick two-flat also now are clearer.

A nonprofit in Taylor’s ward, Blacks In Green, founded by Naomi Davis, the woman who last November established the Mamie Till-Mobley Forgiveness Garden down the street from the home, at the northwest corner of 64th Street and St. Lawrence, seeks to purchase the property and turn it into a museum and gallery space.

The Commission will vote on a recommendation by its staff that the home be landmarked.

It’s one of two Chicago sites in the Emmett Till Memory Project, a virtual tour of national locations significant to this American tragedy, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum & Library Services. The other is Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ, where Till’s historic open casket funeral was held on Sept. 3, 1955.

Mamie Till-Mobley and her son, Emmett Till, whose lynching in 1955 became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
Mamie Till-Mobley and her son, Emmett Till, whose lynching in 1955 became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
AP Photo

The church was landmarked in 2006. But the home where Till lived before that fateful train trip Down South remained at risk of deterioration or demolition after the failure of previous landmark efforts. The city hadn’t ascribed any urgency to preserving the home, now vacant.

Commission approval would provide a preliminary landmark recommendation — with all the protections of landmark status, including preventing demolition or changes to its exterior.

It’s only the first step. A public hearing would be needed if current owners Blake and Wendy McCreight of BMW Properties/Express Property Solutions disagreed. “But on Friday, we got confirmation verbally that the current owner appeared to consent to landmark designation,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

It then moves to the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, then to full council vote. Those wishing to speak on the proposal must register by submitting an appearance form by 12:45 p.m. Tuesday.