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MONEY – An historical interpretive marker about the murder of Emmett Till was rededicated Tuesday in a ceremony on his birthday by the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force.

The marker had been defaced last month. In May, vandals had scratched out the inscription on the marker, located near what used to be Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market. It was at that location in 1955 where the 14-year-old Till allegedly flirted with a 21-year-old white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in an incident that led to his murder.

The Till sign was erected in 2011 and was the first in a series of state-funded markers at significant civil rights sites. It is the only marker on the trail that has ever been defaced, according to a press release from the Mississippi Development Authority.

“We rededicate this marker today in honor of a young man who gave his all to help change the foundation of the world,” said Dr. Leslie-Burl McLemore, chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force.

Citizens, elected officials, and family members of Emmett Till gathered to see the repaired marker. Before the ceremony began, McLemore and the audience sang Happy Birthday to Till.

“We are here, saying to the world, freedom is an ongoing struggle,” said McLemore. “That they can deface this marker, but they cannot remove what happened. They cannot remove the memories. They cannot really tarnish the image of the sacrifice that Emmett Till made all those years ago.”

LaVon Kelly and Anna Williams, cousins of Till, reflected on conversations they had with Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett’s mother.

“I was pretty close to his mom, and we used to talk all of the time,” said Kelly. “She told me about what they did and it was all true.”

Kelly currently resides in Indiana, but he lived in Jackson when Till was murdered. “I was five years old when Emmett came in town. He stayed at my house before coming up here (near Money).”

Kelly said he felt good that blacks and whites came out to see the marker rededicated. He said this shows progress in race relations.

Anna Williams, cousin of Emmett Till, sharing a few words with the audience about him. Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

Williams said she can recall when Mamie would say she knew her son didn’t do what was alleged to have happened. She added that Emmett had a lisp, so if he said something, it’s possible they didn’t understand him. If he did whisper to say something, “it wasn’t enough to kill him,” she said.

Craig Ray, director of Visit Mississippi, said in a press release that repairing the marker was the agency’s top priority.

“By restoring this piece of Till’s legacy on what would have been his 76th birthday, we continue to recognize the sacrifices made in the struggle for civil rights,” the statement read.

Rodkeevian Thomas and Devin Leach, students from West Tallahatchie High School and interns for the Emmett Till Interpretative Center, located in Sumner, said that before learning the history of Till’s marker, they had driven past the sign all of the time without noticing it.

Since working for the center, Thomas and Leach said they looked at the sign closely and when they saw what had happened to it, they were concerned about it.

Devin Leach, left, and Rodkeevian Thomas pose in front of the refurbished marker. Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

“If I wasn’t working at the center, I would have saw the sign and said somebody messed up the sign and kept driving,” said Leach. “Now, I know the significance of the sign and it puts a spot in your heart to want to replace that sign.”

Leach said he has talked with people from other states who had no clue about who Till was.

“We have to get the message across if we want our society to be better … We’re trying to express the significance of Emmett Till and his story,” said Thomas.  “It’s a great experience for me as a person learning the things that I really didn’t learn about Emmett Till and other civil rights leaders and activists.”

McLemore said the most important thing for all to remember is love conquers hate.

“We are going to change Mississippi. A lot of forces across this country really don’t want to see us make progress,” said McLemore. “But we are going to continue to make progress and continue working together.”

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.