WEST WOODLAWN — The West Woodlawn home of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy murdered in Mississippi in 1955, cleared the first step towards securing landmark status Thursday.
The city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved the home for preliminary landmark status in a unanimous vote. The proposal now must be approved by the full City Council before the home at 6427 S. St. Lawrence can be granted protected status, which usually is a formality.
Till lived with his mother on the second floor of the St. Lawrence building, while his uncle and cousins lived on the first floor.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said he and his group have advocated for landmark status for the home since 2017. The group worked with Till’s family, who submitted letters in support of the landmark designation.
Several local leaders spoke in favor of preserving the home.
“This is a very tough subject and we’re dealing with some very tough times in the nation so we were ultra-sensitive to this,” Miller said.
Miller said landmark status for the home would ensure the outside facade and roofline of nondescript brick two-flat cannot be altered without approval from the city’s landmarks commission.
Benjamin Saulsberry, director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Miss., did not attend the meeting but said having an actual building to visit makes history come alive for both young students and adults.
“It helps add depth to the reality of whatever you’re encountering,” Saulsberry said.
Till was visiting relatives in rural Mississippi when he was killed. The shocking brutality of his murder helped spark the civil rights movement in the U.S.
On August 24, 1955, he and a few cousins went into a general store in Money, Mississippi owned by Roy Bryant. The store was being run that day by his wife, Carolyn.
Carolyn Bryant accused the teenager of whistling at her. Days later, her enraged husband and his half-brother kidnapped Till and forced him to carry a heavy cotton gin wheel with barbed wire to the Tallahatchie River. There they beat, tortured and shot him in the head, then threw his body — tied to the cotton gin wheel — into river. Authorities located him on August 31.
Roy Bryant and another man were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury later that year. It was decades later that Carolyn Bryant publicly admitted she’d lied about Till harassing her.
There have been other efforts to honor and memorialize the Till family.
Till attended the McCosh Elementary school at 6543 S. Champlain Ave, which was later renamed the Emmett Louis Till Math & Science Academy. A seven-mile stretch of 71st Street was designated Honorary Emmett Till Road.
A park in honor of his mother — Mamie Till Mobley Park — is on the 6400 block of S. Ellis Ave. The Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ at 4021 S. State St., where Emmett’s mother demanded an open-casket funeral to show the world the horrifying violence her son endured, received landmark status in 2006.
Blake McCreight, a white man who has developed several homes in Woodlawn since 2012, bought the Till home a year ago. He said he did not know the significance of the building when he bought it but is “one-hundred percent on board” with making the property a landmark destination.
It isn’t clear, however, how McCreight plans to handle visitors coming to the home. McCreight said he has a tenant residing on the second floor and he does not have a long-term plan for making it a feasible tourist attraction. He also said he recently received an offer to sell the home but has not reviewed it yet.
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