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Emmett Till and his mother honored with the Congressional Gold Medal

Emmett Till's wrongful death continues to inspire civil rights protests, such as a June 13, 2020, protest, in Chicago, following the death of George Floyd.
Natasha Moustache
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Emmett Till's wrongful death continues to inspire civil rights protests, such as a June 13, 2020, protest, in Chicago, following the death of George Floyd.

Congress is posthumously awarding Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, the Congressional Gold Medal. The medal will be on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, near his casket.

The move is a result of a bill passed by Congress on Wednesday. The bill, known as the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021, will honor the 14-year-old Black boy who was killed by two white men in 1955 after a white woman accused Till of flirting with her.

Till's death shocked the nation and helped ignite the civil rights movement.

After his death, Till's mother famously insisted on an open casket funeral so viewers could see what happened to him. One publication, Jet magazine, also published photos of Till's mutilated body after it was pulled from the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. Mamie Till-Mobley died in 2003.

The bill's passage comes months after Congress approved legislation making lynching a federal crime, more than a century after similar legislation attempting to outlaw lynching had been unsuccessfully introduced.

But legislation awarding Till and his mother the Congressional Gold Medal received far less pushback: It unanimously passed the Senate on Jan. 10 and was passed by voice vote in the House on Wednesday.

The award follows other recent actions to continue to honor Till's memory: In June, Till's family members asked the authorities to seek the arrest of the woman who accused Till in the first place but a grand jury declined to indict her. And a statute of Till was recently unveiled in Mississippi, not far from where he had been murdered.

"The gruesome and unjust murder of Emmett Till serves as one of the most well-known examples of a lynching in American history," U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., one of the bill's sponsors, said in a news release.

"Without the courage and determination of his mother, Mamie, in keeping his casket open during his funeral, the world would not know what happened to him or the full horrors of white supremacy," Rush said. "We must honor Emmett's life and his mother Mamie's contributions to racial justice."

Congress began awarding the medal in 1776 and other recipients include Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and Jackie Robinson.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.