US History

Bullet-Riddled Emmett Till Sign on Display in US History Museum

Emmett Till's cousin Wheeler Parker Jr. saw the museum display and described the night a white mob came for the 14-year-old. "That was the last time I saw him alive"

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In what would have been Emmett Till’s 80th year, a sign marking where his body was found at age 14 is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. 

The bullet-riddled sign will be shown starting Friday in the heart of the museum. You have to pass it to get to the Star Spangled Banner and George Washington. 

The display of the sign is meant to “reflect on the ways that this history of anti-Black violence is very much present with us today,” museum curator Tsione Wolde-Michael said Thursday.

“This is American history,” museum director Anthea M. Hartig added. 

The monthlong display of the sign is part of the exhibit “Reckoning with Remembrance: History, Injustice and the Murder of Emmett Till.” 

Till was visiting Mississippi from Chicago when he was lynched and mutilated by a white mob on Aug. 28, 1955. 

Till’s cousin Wheeler Parker Jr. saw the museum display on Thursday. He was there the night the mob came for Till, claiming he had whistled at a white woman.

“In they walk, pistol in one hand, flashlight in the other, and I closed my eyes to be shot,” he recalled. 

Members of the mob searched the home. 

“They went on to the second room, and they found Emmett there, took him. That was the last time I saw him alive,” Parker said. 

The teenager’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on holding an open-casket funeral so the world could see “what they did to my boy.” 

The Emmett Till Memorial Commission erected nine historical markers to commemorate Till, starting in 2008. The signs have been stolen, shot at, damaged with acid and thrown in the river. 

Some of the culprits have been caught, with University of Mississippi students among them. 

“Laws make people behave, but it does not legislate the heart,” Parker said. 

A bullet-proof sign was erected in 2019

Till’s glass-topped casket and images from his funeral printed in “Jet” magazine are display nearby, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

If you look closely at the sign, one of the slugs is still embedded in it, like Till’s murder remains embedded in the American narrative. 

“The complicated, beautiful, horrible, sad, ongoing and powerful American narrative,” Hartig said. 

The museum exhibit speaks to a young man from Chicago’s place in that narrative, Parker, his cousin, said. 

“Sixty-six years later, he still speaks,” he said. 

A website on the museum’s Emmett Till exhibit can be found here

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