The sign, unveiled in 2011, is part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, a route that includes landmarks highlighting the state’s African American history. It stands within yards of the business — Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market in the town of Money — where Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old white shopkeeper, alleged that Till offended her.
“Who knows what motivates people to do this?” Allan Hammons, the owner of a public relations firm that produced the sign. “Vandals have been around since the beginning of time.”
Mississippi civil rights markers are often the targets of racist vandalism, the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson reported in October:
After Emmett Till Memorial Highway was dedicated along a 32-mile stretch of U.S. 49 East in 2006, vandals painted “KKK” on the Emmett Till highway sign.After the Mississippi historical marker recognizing the Ku Klux Klan’s 1964 killings of three civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner — was unveiled in 2009, it became a repeated target, too.First, vandals painted the sign black. Then they painted “KKK” on the sign. In 2013, they stole the sign.
Hammons told the AP that the sign has been vandalized as recently as May, when it was “scratched with a blunt tool.” The latest defacement involved someone pulling “vinyl panels” with words and images of Till off the back of the marker, he said.
Till, who lived in Chicago, was in Mississippi for the summer visiting relatives when he was killed. Bryant’s husband and another man allegedly abducted the 14-year-old, beat and mutilated him, and then threw him in a river with a cotton gin fan tied to him to weigh him down.
After Till’s body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River days after his kidnapping, his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, demanded an open-casket funeral to show the world the savagery of Southern racism. “Thousands of people attended, and gruesome photographs of his disfigured body were published in newspapers and magazines around the country,” The Washington Post’s Derek Hawkins wrote in 2016. “His death and his alleged killers’ trial — Roy Bryant, the woman’s husband, and J.W. Milam were acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury — became a rallying cry for civil rights leaders.”
The two men later confessed to the killing “in a paid interview with Look magazine,” the AP reported.
In October, a New York University graduate student making a film about Till discovered that the marker at the site where his body was removed from the river was riddled with bullets. He took a photo of the marker and posted it on social media, where it quickly went viral.
“Clear evidence that we’ve still got a long way to go,” he wrote.
The controversy and pain surrounding Till’s death have continued, and his name is a rallying cry for many in the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2008, Till’s accuser told Timothy B. Tyson — a professor at Duke University who wrote the book “The Blood of Emmett Till” — that she fabricated significant portions of her story about her interaction with Till. Specifically, she told Tyson, “the part about Till grabbing her and being sexually crude to her ‘was not true,’ ” The Post’s DeNeen L. Brown reported.
Hammons told the AP that the Freedom Trail marker cost more than $8,000. He noted that repairs will cost at least $500.
“These are easy targets, a low-risk outlet for racism,” Dave Tell, an associate professor at the University of Kansas who is part of the Emmett Till Memory Project, told the Clarion-Ledger in October. Some people, he said, see “civil rights monuments as a form of reverse discrimination, a threat to their own well-being.”