The Chicago home where Emmett Till grew up was designated as a protected landmark this week, culminating a long battle by local activists and politicians to preserve his story and honor it as a part of the American historical fabric.
The Chicago City Council announced on Wednesday that it passed the landmark ordinance for the Southside brick building where he and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, lived until he was murdered and lynched during a trip to visit family down South in the summer of 1965.
“A lot of times, history that happens for African Americans are forgotten about,” Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor, who serves the ward that the building is located, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Before there was Trayvon Martin before there was Eric Garner, there was Emmett Till.”
After the horrific Till lynching, and the subsequent trial acquittal of the confessed murderers, the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were determined not to let the 14-year-old’s life be extinguished in vain. Rosa Parks cited him as a reason why she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in December 1955, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Parks’ defiance, inspired in part by Till, triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, another critical component of the era.
“We still have a real problem in this country not addressing the brutality that has happened to Black folks, but also making sure we apologize and recognize it, and do things to move forward,” Taylor said. “So I’m excited that the Emmett Till home is going to be preserved. We will repeat history if we don’t address it and have those very hard conversations.”
The building, which was formerly inhabited by the Tills, was purchased by BMW Properties in 2019 after previous landmarking efforts failed. The building was at risk of deterioration or demolition. Blacks In Green, a local collaborative advocating for green economic community developments, acquired the 125-year-old building from Blake McCreight of BMW Properties in October, per the Sun-Times.
“Achieving Landmark status for the Till-Mobley House is an important step in recognizing that Black cultural heritage sites long overlooked by the city are a vital part of Chicago’s past, present and future,” Naomi Davis, founder and CEO of Blacks in Green, said.
The community-minded organization said it has plans to transform the brick two-flat into a museum.
Preservation Chicago, an organization dedicated to protecting Chicago architecture, was a chief player for years in attempting to save the building. Ward Miller, the organization’s executive director, said he was proud to assist the effort as a great way to head into Black History Month.
“We were honored to help in recognizing this home as a landmark, pushing for its designation for so many years. We are humbled by the experience. This site of reverence and remembrance will continue to endure long into the future,” he said.
Following this week’s approval by the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, those endorsing the former Till home as a landmark had requested that the council not wait until its meeting in late February to take action on the ordinance. The council agreed, and the ordinance was added to the latest meeting agenda.
The home is located near Till’s former elementary school, formerly known as McCosh Elementary, which was later renamed Emmett Louis Till Math and Science Academy in 2006.
Blacks In Green has also launched an $11 million fundraising campaign to fund the development of “The Till-Mobley Great Migration Museum, Garden and Theater.” The Sun-Times reports that the group is in talks to expand the campus by purchasing an adjacent parking lot.