Civil Rights heritage—seeking landmark status for Emmett Till’s boyhood home
"The African-American teen’s brutal 1955 death helped galvanize America’s Civil Rights Movement"
Current efforts in Chicago to protect Emmett Till’s boyhood home as a landmark join a growing list of studies, proposals, and other programs to add important Civil Rights sites to the nation’s growing inventory of heritage sites.
National Park Service Theme Studies
Under the National Historic Landmarks Program, the National Park Service has developed a series of initiatives designed to identify, protect, and interpret sites that represent a fuller picture of the complicated history of the United States. In the past few years, the Park Service has completed or initiated theme studies focused on Civil Rights in America (various studies including 2000, 2004, and 2007), American Latino Heritage (2013), Labor Archaeology of the Industrial Age (2015), among numerous others. In addition, NPS has developed heritage initiatives to identify sites relevant to a number of under-represented groups, including the Latino American Heritage Initiative, the Asian American Pacific Islander Initiative, Women’s History, and the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative.
The newest theme study focuses on the Reconstruction Era of the United States—1861-1900 when the nation was divided by Civil War and sought to rebuild the nation in the wake of the war when, after passage of the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, African Americans were provided full US citizenship. The positive sound of “reconstruction” belies the many ugly stories—and many inspirational stories—that explain this vital part of the nation’s history.
President Obama continued his practice of honoring and protecting the nation's natural and cultural heritage by naming five new national monuments in the closing weeks of his presidency. In keeping with the National Park Service's on-going initiatives to expand our nationally recognized heritage sites to more broadly and inclusively reflect our full history, three of the new monuments honor important aspects of the long struggle for civil rights for African Americans.
The NPS also awarded a series of grants to assist local communities and organizations to research, preserve, and promote important sites. The city of Birmingham, Alabama, the site of such significant struggles in the long fight for civil rights for African Americans, received three such grants last year. These sites also are being considered for including the US Tentative List for World Heritage designation, which would further promote the promise of the Civil Rights fight in the US to the entire world. The US Tentative List for World Heritage designation was amended this year to add these sites, among others.
Emmett Till’s Boyhood Home
Now Preservation Chicago, an advocacy group, seeks to protect the boyhood home of Emmett Till. In 1955, 14-year old Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered; his body was weighted down and thrown into the Tallahatchie River, not to be discovered for several days. The ensuring trial, and acquittal, of his alleged killers (who were never indicted for kidnapping but who nevertheless eventually admitted to the murder of Till) turned the tragic event into a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement for African Americans in the mid-20th century. Till’s coffin, exhumed in 2005 when the case was re-opened the US justice Department, is now part of the National Museum of African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, DC. The Chicago house at 6427 S. St. Lawrence Street is currently occupied by renters (the photo of the red brick home above is from Google Street view, accessed November 29, 2017)
By Jay Koziarz
November 14, 2017