Mamie Till

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Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley
Mamie Till.jpg
Till-Mobley during a interview outside the courthouse after Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted for the murder of her son Emmett Till, September 23, 1955.
Born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan
(1921-11-23)November 23, 1921
Webb, Mississippi, U.S.
Died January 6, 2003(2003-01-06) (aged 81)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Argo Community High School
Chicago Teacher's College
Loyola University Chicago
Known for Mother of Chicago teenager Emmett Till who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
Spouse(s) Louis Till (m. 1940–45) (1 child; Emmett Till)
Pinky Bradley (m. 1951–52)
Gene Mobley (m. 1957–99)

Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan; November 23, 1921 – January 6, 2003) was the mother of Emmett Till, whose murder mobilized the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, at the age of 14, after being accused of acting inappropriately with a white woman. For her son's funeral in Chicago, Mamie Till insisted that the casket containing his body be left open, because, in her words, "I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby."[1]

Early life[edit]

Born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan on November 23, 1921, in a small town near Webb, Mississippi, she was the only child of John and Alma Carthan. Wanting to leave the South, in 1922 her father moved to Argo, Illinois, near Chicago, shortly after her birth. In Argo, a small industrial town, he found work at the Argo Corn Products Refining Company. Alma Carthan joined her husband in January 1924, bringing two-year-old Mamie with her. They settled in a Predominately black and close-knit neighborhood in Argo.[2] When Mamie was 13, her parents divorced. Devastated, she threw herself into her school work, and excelled in her studies. Alma had high hopes for her only child and although Alma Carthan said that in her day "the girls had one ambition -- to get married", she had encouraged Mamie in her studies. Even though very few of Mamie's peers even finished high school, Mamie was the first black student to make the "A" Honor roll, and only the fourth black student to graduate from the predominately white Argo Community High School.

Aged 18, she met a young man from New Madrid, Missouri named Louis Till. He worked at the Argo Corn Company, was an amateur boxer, and was popular with women. Her parents disapproved, thinking the charismatic Till was "too sophisticated" for their daughter. At her mother's insistence, she broke off their courtship. But the persistent Till won out, and they married on October 14, 1940. Both were 18 years old.[2] Their only child, Emmett Louis Till, was born 9 months later. They separated in 1942 after she found out he had been unfaithful, and later choked her to unconsciousness, to which she responded by throwing scalding water at him. Eventually she obtained a restraining order against him. After violating this repeatedly, a judge forced him to choose between enlistment in the U.S. Army or facing jail time. Choosing the former, he joined the Army in 1943.[3]

In 1945 Mamie received notice from the Department of Defense informing her, without a full explanation, that her husband had been killed during army service in Italy. Mamie Till would later say that she was only told that his death was due to "willful misconduct", and noted that bureaucracy had frustrated her attempts to learn anything more.[4] In fact, Louis Till had been court-martialed on charges of the murder of an Italian woman and the rape of two others in Civitavecchia, in Italy. After a lengthy investigation he was convicted, and was executed by hanging near Pisa on July 2, 1945.[4][5] But the details of Till's execution only fully emerged ten years later, after the murder of his son Emmett and the subsequent trial for that crime. By the early 1950s, Mamie and Emmett had moved to Chicago's South Side. Mamie met and married "Pink" Bradley, but they divorced two years later.[2]

Murder of Emmett Till[edit]

Street rally in New York City, October 11, 1955, under joint sponsorship of NAACP and District 65, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union in protest of slaying of Emmett Till

In 1955, when Emmett was fourteen, his mother put him on the train to spend the summer visiting his cousins in Money, Mississippi. She was never to see him alive again. Her son was abducted and brutally murdered on August 28, 1955, after being accused of interacting inappropriately with a white woman. The following month Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam faced trial for Till's kidnapping and murder, but were acquitted by the all-white jury, after a five day trial and a 67-minute deliberation. One juror said, "If we hadn't stopped to drink pop, it wouldn't have taken that long."[6] Only months later, in an interview with Look magazine in 1956, protected against double jeopardy, Bryant and Milam admitted to killing Emmett Till.[7]

For her son's funeral, Till insisted that the casket containing his body be left open, because, in her words, "I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby." Tens of thousands of people viewed Emmett's body and photographs were circulated around the country.[1][8] Through the constant attention it received, the Till case became emblematic of the disparity of justice for blacks in the South. The NAACP asked Mamie Till to tour the country relating the events of her son's life, death, and the trial of his murderers. It was one of the most successful fundraising campaigns the NAACP had ever known.[9]

Later life, education and death[edit]

Mamie Till graduated from Chicago Teacher's College in 1956. She remarried one last time, to Gene Mobley on June 24, 1957. She became a teacher, changed her surname to Till-Mobley, and continued her life as an activist working to educate people about what happened to her son. In 1976 she obtained a master's degree in administration at Loyola University Chicago.[10] In 1992, Mamie Till-Mobley had the opportunity to listen while Roy Bryant was interviewed about his involvement in her son's murder. With Bryant unaware that Till-Mobley was listening, he asserted that Emmett Till had ruined his life. He expressed no remorse and stated "Emmett Till is dead. I don't know why he can't just stay dead."[11] Two years later, in 1994, Roy Bryant died of cancer, aged 63.[12] Mamie and Gene Mobley were happily married until Gene's death from a stroke on March 18, 1999.[13] Mamie Till-Mobley died of heart failure in 2003, aged 81. The same year, her autobiography (written with Christoper Benson), Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America, was published.


  1. ^ a b Recollection by Joyce Ladner of conversation with Till's mother, in the context of a Brookings Institution panel discussion on the Civil Rights Movement.
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ Till-Mobley and Benson, pp. 14–17.
  4. ^ a b Whitfield, p. 117.
  5. ^ Houck and Grindy, pp. 134–135.
  6. ^ Whitfield, pp. 41–42.
  7. ^ Whitfield, p. 52.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Till-Mobley and Benson, pp. 191–196.
  10. ^ "Mamie Till-Mobley; Civil Rights Figure (obituary)". Washington Post. January 8, 2003. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  11. ^ Till-Mobley and Benson, p. 261.
  12. ^ FBI (2006), pp. 24–26.
  13. ^ Till-Mobley and Benson


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