Senators seek highest civilian honour for Emmett Till and his mother: 'A long overdue recognition'

The new legislation comes 65 years after Till’s murder propelled the civil rights movement

Madeline Roth
Thursday 19 August 2021 08:57 BST
Senators say the Congressional Gold Medal is long overdue for Emmett Till and his mother
Senators say the Congressional Gold Medal is long overdue for Emmett Till and his mother (AP)

Sixty-five years after Emmett Till's murder lit fire to the civil rights movement, two US senators have introduced legislation to award Till and his mother the country's highest civilian honor.

Republican senator Richard Burr of North Carolina and Democratic senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said the Congressional Gold Medal is “long overdue” for the Till family.

Till was just 14 when he was kidnapped, beaten, and lynched in Mississippi by white men who were later acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury, despite eyewitness testimony linking them to the brutal murder. The Black teenager had been accused of whistling at a white woman at a convenience store.

Following her son's death, Mamie Till-Mobley chose an open-casket funeral to show the 50,000 mourners, and the world, the horror he endured. She later founded the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, which fought for the reinvestigation of her son's murder, and remained a Civil Rights activist until her death in 2003.

"That legacy is still felt today and honoring it is more important than ever," Mr Burr said in a statement announcing the legislation. “Awarding [the Congressional Gold Medal] posthumously to Emmett Till, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, would be a long overdue recognition of what the Till family endured and what they accomplished in their fight against injustice.”

Mr Booker added, "While his lynching and the impunity that followed was unique in its horror, it revealed the persistent legacy of radicalized terror and violence waged against Black Americans and reflected the stain of racism and bigotry that this nation continues to struggle with today."

In February, the House of Representatives passed a bill named after Till that finally labeled lynching as a hate crime under federal law. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act designates the crime as punishable by up to life in prison, a fine, or both. The bill is currently, however, stalled in the Republican-led Senate by Kentucky senator Rand Paul.

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