In October, a Mississippi historical marker for Emmett Till was riddled with bullet holes in a savage act of vandalism.
Now, less than a year later, a second state historical marker has been defaced, destroying historical information about the black teenager whose name became a civil rights rallying cry after he was kidnapped and murdered in 1955, according to the Associated Press.
Unveiled in 2011, the AP reported, the sign is part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, a route that includes historical landmarks highlighting the state’s African American history. It stands within yards of the infamous business — Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market — where Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old white shopkeeper, alleged Till offended her.
“Who knows what motivates people to do this?” Allan Hammons, the owner of a public relations firm that produced the sign located in Money, Mississippi. “Vandals have been around since the beginning of time.”
Mississippi civil rights markers are often the targets of racist vandalism, the Clarion-Ledger 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 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 lived in Chicago but was in Mississippi for the summer visiting relatives when he was killed. Bryant’s husband and another man allegedly abducted the 14-year-old before beating and mutilating him and then throwing him in a river with a cotton gin fan to weigh him down.
The two men were ultimately acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and murder by an all-white jury, though they later publicly confessed to the killing “in a paid interview with Look magazine,” the AP reported.
When 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 bullet-riddled marker commemorating the site where Till’s body was removed from the river was discovered by a graduate student from New York University making a film about Till’s life. He took a photo of the marker and posted the image 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 has continued and his name is still a rallying cry for many in the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2008, Till’s accuser told Timothy 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 Washington Post’s DeNeen Brown reported.
Hammons told the AP 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.”