Emmett Till’s Original Casket Donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

August 27, 2009
News Release

The original glass-topped casket that held the battered body of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American boy brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955, will be given to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The donation will be announced prior to a memorial service at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, the site of the 1955 funeral, Friday, Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of Till’s death.

A young boy from Chicago, Till was killed by white men during a visit to his great-uncle Moses Wright’s house in Money, Miss. While the precise details of Till’s actions remain unclear, he was perceived to have offended a white woman, and thus crossed the racial boundaries of 1955 Mississippi. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, had her son laid out in the glass-topped casket so the world could see “what they did to my boy.” He was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery in suburban Chicago. The body was exhumed for an autopsy in 2005 during another criminal investigation into his murder, and Till was reburied in another coffin.

The glass-topped coffin was found in poor condition in a storage shed on the cemetery grounds during a police search last month, following the arrest of cemetery employees accused of digging up more than 300 graves and reselling the plots. Till’s plot was undisturbed.

Till’s murder and the images of his body, first published in Jet magazine and carried around the world by the news media, are considered by historians to be the beginning of the civil rights movement in America.

“We are both honored and humbled that the Till family has entrusted this sacred object to the museum for preservation and safekeeping,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the museum. “The death of Emmett Till shocked the conscience of the world and fueled the civil rights movement. It is our duty to ensure that this iconic artifact is preserved so that we will never forget.   ”

Simeon Wright, 66, who was with his cousin Till on the night of the murder, led the family’s efforts to donate the casket. “If we didn’t have this casket, no one would ever believe this could happen in America,” Wright said. “Some people would say this is just a wooden box, scuffed up on the outside and stained on the inside. But this very particular box tells a story, lots of stories. And by sending it to the Smithsonian’s African American museum we—Emmett’s few remaining relatives—are doing what we can to make sure those stories get told long after we’re gone.”

The deed of gift notes that the family is making the donation “In memory of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley.”

The casket will be transported by truck, and its condition will be assessed by conservation staff at a facility in suburban Maryland, where it will be housed.

News Briefing
A brief news conference will be held at 9:30 a.m. in the Roberts Temple Fellowship Hall. Bunch will speak as will Wright and Linda Johnson Rice, a member of the museum’s council and chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Company Inc., publisher of Jet and Ebony magazines.

The Ceremony
The hour-long memorial service is set for 11 a.m., Friday, Aug. 28, at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 South State Street, Chicago. The memorial sermon will be delivered by Bishop Cody Vernon Marshall, who will be joined by clergy from the church, including Pastor Cleveland Wardlow Jr. Speaking for the Till family will be Rev. Wheeler Parker and Wright, both cousins of Till. Music will be provided by the Emmett Till Memorial Choir of Chicago, whose director, Dolores “Honey” Sykes, was at the Till funeral in 1955.

About the Museum 
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. It will be built on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and is scheduled to open in 2015. For more information about the museum, go to nmaahc.si.edu.

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SI-373A-2009

Media Only

Fleur Paysour

(202)-633-4761

paysourf@si.edu

Linda St.Thomas

(202) 633-5188

stthomasl@si.edu