WOODLAWN — Theresa Joiner was a child when she attended Emmett Till’s funeral. Sixty-six years after the 14-year-old Chicago boy was lynched in Mississippi, she can still remember the details of that day; the sight of his brutalized body, the smell of the church sanctuary, the frantic sprint home afterward.
Joiner, who still lives across the street from Till’s home, was joined by other community elders, local leaders and neighbors in West Woodlawn on Sunday for a special plaque unveiling in honor of the slain teenager, on what would have been his 80th birthday.
“I had forgotten at some point that I attended the funeral until one of my neighbors said, ‘You know we were there,'” Joiner said as she stood in front of the Till Mobley House Museum, designated an official city landmark earlier this year.
Sunday’s event was the culmination of years of effort from Blacks In Green, whose founder Naomi Davis has been tirelessly working to turn the two-flat building, 6427 S. Woodlawn Ave., into a museum.
If remaining funding is secured, the $11 million project should be completed by 2024.
If a bill working its way through Congress is successful, Till’s home would be part of the Bronzeville Black Metropolis National Heritage Area. The designation would mean $10 million in federal funding to preserve the places in the neighborhood important to the history of Black Chicago.
Davis said the Till museum project has already secured $600,000 in funding and will move forward regardless of the designation. But Paula Robinson and Bernard Turner, president and executive director of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission, said having the federal designation would certainly accelerate those efforts.
“We need to have a more comprehensive list of supporters willing to call different Congresspeople to get them to push the legislation to the next step,” Turner said. “We have about 25, but if we had 75 people working on this, that would make a bigger difference.”
The next phase will be preserving the home’s exterior with work on the windows, foundation and tuck pointing. With help from architect Ed Torres, work should start in spring.
If all goes according to plan, the house will join the Obama Presidential Library and the other South Side house museums — including the building Muddy Waters once called home — on a list of must-see cultural landmarks, using the stories of the past to revitalize the community.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who tapped Davis to lead preservation efforts, praised the activist during Sunday’s ceremony. Taylor said she and Davis first met while protesting the closure of Dyett High School years ago.
“I’m grateful for Naomi taking this on because this isn’t an easy task,” Taylor said. “Everything that is important to us, we have to make sure we take care of it.”
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