Now a national monument, Bronzeville church where Emmett Till’s casket lay open gets official sign

Roberts Temple Church, at 40th and State streets, will preserve the site where Till’s body was displayed in an open casket and launched the modern Civil Rights Movement.

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Deb Haaland Secretary U.S. Department of the Interior Brenda Mallory chair Council on Environmental Quality CEQ park rangers Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ Bronzeville sign National Monument Emmett Till funeral

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, take photos with park rangers Tuesday after unveiling a sign recognizing Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ as a national monument.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The new national monument in Chicago honoring Emmett Till looks a little more official now.

A placard was unveiled Tuesday to recognize Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Bronzeville as a national monument that preserves the site where Till’s lynched body was displayed in an open casket and launched the modern Civil Rights Movement.

President Joe Biden last week declared the church to be the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley and Roberts Temple National Monument. The declaration — on what would’ve been Till’s 82nd birthday — was the culmination of years of work to preserve the church, which needs an estimated $20 million in repairs.

Emmett Till was 14 years old in 1955 when he was kidnapped and lynched while visiting Mississippi after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

The church hosted Till’s funeral. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, decided to keep the casket open to “Let the people see what they did to my boy.”

From a lectern inside the church on Tuesday, officials spoke emotionally about the significance of preserving the memory of Till’s lynching.

Mayor Brandon Johnson Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ

Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ about preserving history.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“We all know this painful story,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said. “But it’s important for us to always remember, because it is in that memory we find our strength and our power.”

Several officials — including U.S. Reps. Jonathan Jackson, Robin Kelly, Danny K. Davis and former U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush — said the monument to Till is important in the current fight against racism.

They pointed to book bans and new guidelines in Florida for teachers that say students should be told that slaves gained skills for “personal benefit.”

“While states across this country are attempting to erase Black history, we remember Mamie Till-Mobley’s efforts to expose, for the whole world to see, a miscarriage of justice against her son,” Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ National Monument

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wipes her eye at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ on Tuesday during the unveiling of a sign recognizing Roberts Temple as a national monument.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Other speakers included Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

The National Park Service, which was granted land adjacent to the church so Biden could designate the site, will soon operate tours there, according to Park Service site Supt. Deirdre Hewitt. A start date hasn’t been determined, but a plan for the site will likely be completed in the next year, she said.

Park Service personnel are not yet based at the church, Hewitt said. So far, work at the site has been done by employees from the Pullman National Historical Park, she said.

Officials met outside the front of the church and unveiled the official National Park Service sign that will hang outside the building. The sign unveiled Tuesday was a paper copy of what will later hang outside on a fence, Hewitt said. The final, metal sign will be delivered in a few weeks, she said, explaining that money for the sign was only released last week after Biden’s declaration.

Deirdre Hewitt site superintendent National Park Service National Monument Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ Emmett Till funeral

Deirdre Hewitt, a National Park Service site superintendent, speaks about the significance of the national monument at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Park Service does not own the church. Hewitt said there was no plan to buy it, and that there are no plans yet for the parcels near the church owned by the Park Service.

The church building — with crumbling ceiling tiles caught by makeshift netting in the nave — will start to be restored by the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute, which in June received a $2.9 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, according to Institute Executive Director Marvel Parker.

Biden’s designation also preserves two sites in Mississippi: Graball Landing, where Till’s body was pulled from a river; and the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, where an all-white jury quickly acquitted the white men accused of killing Till — though the men later admitted their guilt.

Rev. Wheeler Parker Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ Bronzeville unveiling sign National Monument Emmett Till funeral

The Rev. Wheeler Parker, a cousin of Emmett Till, leads a prayer at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ on Tuesday during the unveiling of a sign recognizing Roberts Temple as a national monument. Parker was with Till when he was lynched in Mississippi.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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