On October 21, several US officials visited the Church of God in Christ at Roberts Temple, where leaders and historians gathered to share the historical significance of the church that held Emmett Till’s funeral.
The meeting came as the church celebrates its 100th anniversary in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
A Chicago landmark, the church is currently undergoing renovations as Senator Dick Durbin and US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland seek to designate it as a National Historic Landmark. The designation would offer the church federal support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service for its role in the civil rights movement.
In addition to Durbin, Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny K. Davis also attended the event.
During his visit, Haaland said he met with some of Till’s parents and church officials. She also spoke about the Roberts Temple Church of God in the rich history of Christ.
“These walls have testified to say a lot. That’s the sense of community and I see it here in abundance,” Haaland said. “I am here because this church is a key part of our nation’s history.”
As part of the designation process, U.S. officials visited the church to gather feedback from residents about the central role of the church after Till’s 1955 assassination.
Residents who attended the meeting spoke passionately about Till’s murder and its lasting impact on the African-American struggle for equality and social justice.
“Today we advocate for this designation to be moved forward by President Biden through the Antiquities Act,” said Marvel Parker.
Parker is the husband of Till’s cousin, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., who was with Till before he was assassinated and witnessed his abduction in Money, Mississippi. He attended the event but did not speak.
“Chicago’s contribution to the civil rights movement wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t tell the whole story,” said Congressman Rush.
“The heritage and history of the Church of God in Christ intertwines with the history of the civil rights movement”, said Congressman Davis.
Maurice Cox, Chicago’s first black planning and development commissioner, pointed to other Chicago landmarks in the black community that are tied to Till’s life and death. He mentioned the original Chicago Defender building in Bronzeville and the Johnson Publishing Company building on Michigan Avenue. The two publications were the first to publish photos of Till’s mangled face. He also mentioned Till’s home in Woodlawn which has become a Chicago landmark in 2021.
“All of Till’s sites in Chicago and Mississippi are significant because they are physical reminders of the people and events that changed the course of history,” said Cox.
“No other place in the United States bears witness to the impact of galvanizing the civil rights movement not only on the United States, but on the world,” said Sherry Williams, founder and president of the Bronzeville Historical Society. “I encourage Madam Secretary to bring a message of love and encouragement to our President to designate Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ a national monument.”
Till’s funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ was held on September 6, 1955. It was a day many will remember. The 14-year-old boy’s mutilated body was seen at an open casket burial days after he was brutally murdered by two white men in Money, Mississippi.
His body was found tied to a cotton fan with barbed wire in the Tallahatchie River. The two white men, Roy Bryant and JW Milam were acquitted of murder charges in a trial that lasted just over an hour. They later confessed to killing Till in an interview with See magazine. The Justice Department this year closed its investigation and declined to press charges against Bryant’s wife, Carolyn Bryant Dunham, who in a book confessed to lying during the trial that Till made advances to her.
Mississippi officials originally planned to bury Till in a local cemetery, but his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, ordered that her son’s body be returned to Chicago. She told the AA Rayner Funeral Home she wanted an open casket funeral to show the world what the men had done to her son. More
100,000 people viewed Till’s body during the funeral and several days of viewing.
Today, as Till’s memory remains strong in Chicago, efforts are underway to preserve Roberts Temple, 4021 S. State St. Built in 1922 as a single-story red brick structure, the building has added a second floor in 1927 when thousands of black people moved to Chicago during the Great Migration.
Since Till’s funeral, the building has undergone several renovations. In 1992, the building’s red brick facade was replaced with tawny brick. Over the years, the roof of the building has deteriorated. In the sanctuary, a special screen hung from the ceiling to protect guests attending last Friday’s event.
In 2020 the church was placed on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Senator Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth have proposed legislation to save the building and other historic sites related to Till’s legacy. Last January, the church received a $150,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic
Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
Grandma Till Mobley spent the rest of her life seeking justice for her son. On October 28, a grand opening is scheduled for a plaza outside Argo Community High School, where she was an honored student. The statue should be in place at the end of April. The film “Till” about the life of Mamie and her son before and after the murder is shown in cinemas.