Till family: Casket donated to Smithsonian

August 28, 2009 8:18:28 PM PDT
Fifty-four years ago Friday, Emmett Till's murder helped spark the civil rights movement. Till's family announced Friday that the casket Emmett Till was originally buried in is being donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The official announcement was made before a memorial service at the South Side church where Till's funeral took place.

"Fifty-four years ago, I don't know where you all (were), but I know where I was. It was a day in Mississippi that the laughter left our home -- no one laughed after that day," Till's cousin Simeon Wright said.

The casket will now be used to teach others about the civil rights movement at a new Smithsonian museum that will honor African-Americans.

"How humble and how honored we are that the family would entrust this important and personal object to the Smithsonian Institution, to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture," said Lonnie Bunch, of the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History.

"When I saw that casket, it brought a feeling over me that pictures and film could not bring, and I made a statement then for the family that I wished that some African-American museum would take this casket and preserve it. I had no idea that it was going to be the Smithsonian," Wright said.

In 1955, Till was 14 years old when he was murdered in Money, Mississippi, for allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant at a grocery store. His bloated body was found in the Tallahatchie River. He was identified only by his father's ring. His mother wanted to share in her grief so she chose to display his mutilated body in a glass-covered open casket.

Till's body was exhumed in 2005 as part of an investigation into his death, and his body was reburied in a different casket. The original casket was supposed to be preserved, but instead, it was recently found desecrated with a family of possums living inside. WATCH VIDEO: Sheriff: Till casket found rotting

The casket was found in a shed as part of the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal, where bones from hundreds of braves were scattered and plots were allegedly resold. COMPLETE COVERAGE: Burr Oak Cemetery Scandal

"Disbelief. How could anybody allow this to happen to something that's so pertinent to history?" said Ollie Gordon, Till's cousin.

"Emmett Till's murder and the decision not to have a closed casket were crucial moments in the struggle for racial justice. In many ways, the open casket forced America to confront its worst racial demons," Bunch said.

Jet magazine was the first publication to print the photos that were carried around the world, a tribute which galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.

"Emmett left a mark throughout Chicago and throughout the world. It's why it's so fitting he will be preserved in his memory as we are doing today," said Linda Johnson Rice, Chairman and CEO, Johnson Publishing (Jet publisher).

In Washington, the casket will be refurbished and prepared for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in 2015.


Load Comments