The Spark That Ignited the
Civil Rights Movement
Join the Campaign to Create an Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Park
In August of 1955, Emmett Till took the Illinois Central Railroad into the heart of Mississippi. A 14-year-old African-American child from Chicago, Emmett was celebrating the end of summer with a vacation to see his cousins in the Mississippi Delta. Although he could not possibly have known it, his journey into the Deep South would shake the fabric of the nation and galvanize the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Emmett, known to his friends as a vivacious prankster, crossed the racial mores of the Jim Crow South by whistling at a white woman. Three days later, Emmett was kidnapped from his uncle’s home, tortured, and murdered. His body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River.
Mississippi authorities tried to quell the story and bury Till quickly in a small church-side cemetery. But his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, demanded that her son’s body be sent home to Chicago. When she saw the beaten body of her son, she uttered the now-famous words: “Let the world see what I’ve seen” and held an open-casket memorial. Over 100,000 mourners paid their respects at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago and saw first-hand the brutality of racism. Images of Mamie's grief and Emmett's body circulated internationally, spotlighting the terror of the Jim Crow South. The images and stories of Till's murder were so powerful that they ushered an entire generation of activists into the movement. John Lewis, Rosa Parks, the Ladner sisters, and Anne Moody are among the multitudes who are counted as "the Emmett Till generation."
Jerome Little's Vision
This National Park Campaign would not exist if it weren’t for the tireless work of the late Jerome “G” Little in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Jerome Little was born on a sharecropper plot in Tallahatchie County in 1952. After serving in the Marine Corps 1974 to 1977, he returned to home. Motivated by the lack of running water in the Goose Pond community in Tallahatchie County, he decided to run for local office. However, the county refused to allow his name to appear on the ballot because he was black. After suing the county several times, Jerome Little finally got on the ballot and was elected to the Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors as one of the first African American supervisors in Tallahatchie County in 1994. (Supervisor Bobby Banks, also African American, was elected in the same election cycle.) Jerome Little eventually became President of the Board of Supervisors in 2000.
In 2006, Jerome Little began organizing to form a biracial group of citizens called the Emmett Till Memorial Commission of Tallahatchie County, Inc. In 2007, this Commission issued a public apology to the Till family on the steps of the same courthouse where J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were found not guilty of Emmett Till’s murder 52 years earlier. Jerome Little passed in 2011, but his dream to honor the Emmett Till legacy lives on in the work of the group he founded, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission.
Please take a moment to view his powerful speech from the 2007 community apology to the Till family.
Sites for Preservation
Through the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Park Campaign, we strive to preserve a set of sites central to Emmett Till's story. This site does not make recommendations relating to the feasibility or suitability of any of the properties to be included in the National Park System. That analysis is the purview of the National Park Service.