The cars came one by one, down a gravel road and through a cotton field, to the edge of the Tallahatchie River and the spot where, 64 years ago, historians believe Emmett Till’s lifeless body was pulled from the river. The vehicles carried Till’s relatives, including a cousin, community leaders, the Rev. Wheeler Parker and advocates dedicated to keeping his memory alive.
The group had gathered on Saturday at noon in the remote spot near Glendora, Miss., to dedicate yet another memorial to Till. And this time, it was bulletproof.
It took 50 years to get the first memorial to Till erected in Tallahatchie County, the site of the lynching that helped spark the civil rights movement. But then, an entirely new battle began: keeping the tribute intact.
Saturday’s dedication unveiled the fourth marker the local Emmett Till Memorial Commission had installed at the site since 2008, when the original sign was stolen and never recovered. A sheriff suspected it had been thrown into the river, not far from the Graball Landing site where historians say Till’s body had been found.
The sign and similar markers in the region have become a frequent target for racist vandalism and theft, with perpetrators going to deliberate lengths to deface Till’s memory.
The commission quickly erected a second sign at Graball Landing, which stood until 2016. By the time it was taken down by the advocates that year, it had been riddled with bullet holes for years.
They replaced that sign with a third, which lasted a mere 35 days before it too was shot up. It remained standing until this summer, when a photo emerged that depicted three white University of Mississippi fraternity boys posing next to the sign, grinning as they clutched guns. The photo, unearthed from social media by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, resulted in the students’ suspension from the fraternity.
“This is not just driving down the highway and you see a sign and shoot it,” said Patrick Weems, director of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission. “It’s a very remote site that you’re not just regularly passing by. … Unfortunately, we have people who go all the way out of the way to vandalize it.”
But the same week the Ole Miss photo emerged, the Lite Brite Neon Studio in Brooklyn had completed a new sign for the riverside memorial, and the commission was able to install it this month.
The sign comes with protective glass and reinforced steel to prevent bullet holes, vandalism and theft, Weems said, and for the first time, the site would be monitored by surveillance cameras capable of transmitting feeds over the Internet.
America has truly been made great again.