Emmett Till, Mother Mamie Till Receive Congressional Gold Medals

ongress announced that Emmet Till, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, would be awarded posthumous Congressional Gold Medal award
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Photo: Twitter

This week, Congress announced that Emmet Till, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, would be awarded posthumous Congressional Gold Medal awards. Till was only 14-years-old, in August 1955, when he was brutalized, tortured--and lynched--by racist white men in Mississippi, principally: Roy Bryant, and half brother J.W. Milam for allegedly whistling at Bryant's white wife.

Before Mamie Till-Mobley died in 2003, she appointed Alvin Sykes as the advocate for herself and her son Emmett Till. Together they founded the Emmett Till Justice Campaign (ETJC). Mamie appointed Alvin President of the ETJC in 2003. Alvin’s first accomplishment at the helm was the successful reopening of Emmett Till’s 1955 murder investigation through the Department of Justice in the State of Mississippi and the FBI. Shortly after this, Mamie would pass away. Alvin would carry the torch of the ETJC until his passing on March 19, 2021.

During his tenure as President of the ETJC, Alvin introduced the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Act (2007) “Till Bill I” alongside Khadijah Hardaway, Alvin’s first Executive Assistant. This granted the DOJ and the FBI the authority to reopen, investigate, and prosecute where applicable Civil Rights Cold Case crimes that resulted in death where the states failed to prosecute. 

Later Alvin worked with a group of dedicated advocates to expand the scope of “Till Bill I” from the end of the Civil Rights era through 1979; with the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act (2016) “Till Bill II”. He was aided by his Executive Assistant Corey Weibel.

In 2015, Dr. Sheila Chamberlain, a Till family member encouraged Alvin to seek a Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) for Emmett and Mamie while he and the team were working on the passage of “Till Bill II”. Dr. Chamberlain had previous experience with passing CGM’s having worked on the team to award a CGM to the Tuskegee Airmen and a CGM to the Civil Air Patrol. Therefore, Dr. Chamberlain was appointed by Alvin and her (the Till) family as the lead spokesperson for the CGM effort.

In the 116th session of Congress Alvin introduced two bills bearing Emmett’s name: Emmett Till Antilyching Act and the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Congressional Gold Medal Act. Neither effort would pass during the 116th session of Congress. Till family member, Airickca Gordon-Taylor (Mamie Till-Mobley Memorial Foundation) and Alvin worked with Congressman Bobby Rush - IL and then Senator Kamala Harris - CA on the Anti-Lynching bill. 

The Antilynching Act would be reintroduced by Congressman Bobby Rush - IL and Senator Cory Booker - NJ in the 117th session of Congress. It was signed into law on March 29, 2022. After two hundred failed attempts, lynching is now a federally recognized hate crime. Alvin would pass prior to seeing this landmark bill signed into law.

It was Alvin’s wish and hope that Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., Emmett’s cousin and best friend, accept the CGM on behalf of the Till Family when it became enacted. Rev. Parker took that fateful journey with Emmett from Chicago, IL to Money, MS in 1955 and is the last witness to this horrific crime that played an integral role in our American History. Mamie’s courageous decision to hold an open casket memorial for Emmett at Robert’s Temple in Chicago, IL was attended by over 50,000 people. This event is credited for serving as the catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement.

At the request of Alvin on behalf of the ETJC and Till family members, Corey took the lead on seeing the effort to posthumously award Emmett and Mamie with a joint CGM in the 117th session. The effort was again led by Senator Richard Burr - NC, Senator Booker, and Congressman Rush.

Aided largely by the efforts of Ann Woods-Hawks in Senator Burr’s office S.450 passed the Senate on January 11, 2022. The efforts continued in the House aided by Patrick McDermott, in Congressman Rush’s office who led House counterpart H.R. 2252. 

Robert Raben of the Raben Group had worked with Alvin on previous legislative measures. He assigned Temi Onayemi as their office's advocate along with the assistance of Tonya Veasey. 

Countless other individuals, groups, and supporters nationwide volunteered their time and called members of Congress to ask that they cosponsor this long overdue honorary award. 

On Tuesday, December 20, 2022, H.R. 2252 reached the 289 cosponsor threshold. A call was placed from Congressman Rush’s office to alert Speaker Pelosi who was set to become the final cosponsor needed to bring the bill to the House floor having met the 290 requisites. Later that same day, “Till Bill II” would become fully appropriated. Included in the Omnibus package “Till Bill II” was awarded 14.5 million dollars. Giving it the legs to hit the ground running.

The original CGM will be housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in our nation's capital. Alvin Sykes always hoped that the “poison that came out of Emmett's lynching would become the medicine that healed us as a nation.” This horrific act of hatred committed against a child has inspired countless individuals to dedicate their lives to public service. Seeking positions in congress, education, community activism, advocacy, legal fields, and the arts, et. al.

Everyone who learns the story of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley is forever changed. On Wednesday, December 21, 2022, the CGM passed the House with unanimous consent. Our lawmakers recognized the courage of Mamie and how her decision to “let the world see” what an act of hatred had done, changed our nation for the greater good. Her only child and son, Emmetts’ life was not lost in vain. LOVE WON.

It was a great day for our nation. For Emmett. For Mamie. And for Alvin.

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