In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till left his Chicago home to visit family in Mississippi. Little did anyone know, it would be his last time in the home he grew up in. While on his trip, Till was brutally killed by two white men who claimed he flirted with a white woman. Yesterday (July 19), it was announced that the National Trust for Historic Preservation is awarding $3 million in grants to over 30 organizations and sites for its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. This will allow Till’s Illinois residence to receive historic preservation funds.
Brent Leggs is the executive director of the organization. As reported by NPR, the funds will be used to fill in “some gaps in the nation’s understanding of the civil rights movement.” In 2020, a local nonprofit group purchased Till’s childhood home. The group, Blacks in Green, is headed by executive director Naomi Davis. She plans to open the home to the public by 2025. “This house is a sacred treasure from our perspective and our goal is to restore it and reinvent it as an international heritage pilgrimage destination,” she said. According to the organization’s website, a project director will restore the home’s interior to its 1955 configuration when Till last lived there.
Till’s death and open casket funeral was a defining moment in Black history. When speaking of Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, Leggs recalled her strength in deciding to hold an open casket funeral. The 14-year-old’s battered body was also photographed for Jet Magazine. “It was a catalytic moment in the civil rights movement and through this, we lift and honor Black women in civil rights,” he shared.
In addition to Till’s home, several other notable sites will receive restoration funds, including the Virginia home where Black tennis champs Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson trained. The Blue Bird Inn in Detroit is also a recipient. The establishment is credited as being the birthplace of bebop jazz. A couple of African American cemeteries in South Carolina and Pennsylvania will also receive finances to assist with preservation efforts.
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