Emmett Till Funeral Home Church Named Endangered Historic U.S. Site

Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ was listed Thursday (September 24) among the most endangered historic U.S. sites. The symbolic church is where 14-year-old Emmett Till was eulogized over in 1955 where an estimated 100,000 people viewed his open casket.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation included the church in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood on its annual list, citing the “pivotal events in American history” that occurred there for galvanizing the U.S. civil rights movement.

Till was brutally murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant.

Bryant’s husband and her brother, Rob Bryant and J.W. Milam, made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.

The family held an open casket funeral for viewers to see Till's mutilated body. An all-white jury deliberated for less than an hour before issuing a verdict of "not guilty," explaining that they believed the state had failed to prove the identity of the body.

The church’s inclusion on the Washington D.C. nonprofit list comes exactly 65 years and one day after those acquittals, an anniversary that coincided with a grand jury’s decision in Louisville, Kentucky, on Wednesday (September 23) to not charge three officers in the March 13 shooting death of Breonna Taylor.

Till’s family and representatives of the church issued a statement commending the church’s inclusion on the list for its potential to “raise much-needed awareness to the condition of the iconic Civil Rights site and accelerate efforts to stabilize and rehabilitate the building.”

Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s cousin and the last living witness of the 1955 murder, told USA Today that he is hopeful the recognition will shine a much-needed spotlight on the landmark.

“I could remember as if it was yesterday what his mother said: ‘I hope you did not die in vain.’ And that has stuck with me,” Parker said. “This effort that they’ve been doing is a reminder that Emmett Till speaks from the grave. By putting this out on the national register, I think it’s a reminder, and she would be very happy to know that something is being done to depict what racism was like then.”

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