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Mamie Till Mobley, Mother of Emmett Till, Dies at 81

Mamie Till Mobley, Mother of Emmett Till, Dies at 81


The mother of Emmett Till, whose 1955 race-motivated killing became a catalyst for the civil rights movement, died of heart failure earlier this month in Chicago.

In an Associated Press article last month, Mamie Till Mobley, 81, said she remained haunted by the Mississippi killing of her 14-year-old son. An all-White jury acquitted half brothers J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant in the Black teenager’s death, though Look magazine published an article with their alleged confession four months later.

“I’ve been trying to get that case reopened since 1956,” said Mobley, who traveled the country speaking about the case. “People have told me to let this thing die, even people in my own family. But people need to be aware.”

Civil rights leaders credit both Till and Mobley with helping to spark the movement that ended Jim Crow segregation laws and passed the Civil Rights Act, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said earlier this month after Mobley’s death.

“She was a very articulate teacher who saw the pain of her son and did a profound, strategic thing,” Jackson says. “When they pulled his water-soaked body from the river, most people would have kept the casket closed. She kept it open.”

Jackson said more than 100,000 people viewed Emmett Till’s body in Chicago and were transformed. Months later, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., started a cycle of nonviolent protests.

“The lynching and martyrdom of Emmett Till was a pivotal moment in American history,” Jackson says. “It is true that the 1954 Supreme Court decision broke the legal chains of Jim Crow. The martyrdom of Emmett Till broke the emotional bond and created a resolve to fight back.”

The case has been the subject of recent documentary films, a book and an upcoming memoir by Mobley, expected to be published by Random House this year.

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