Mamie Till

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Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley
Till-Mobley during an interview outside the courthouse before Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted for the murder of her son Emmett Till, September 23, 1955
Mamie Elizabeth Carthan

(1921-11-23)November 23, 1921
DiedJanuary 6, 2003(2003-01-06) (aged 81)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Other namesMamie Till-Bradley
  • Educator
  • activist
Years active1955–2003
Known forMother of Chicago teenager Emmett Till who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955
  • (m. 1940; executed 1945)
  • Lemorse Mallory
    (m. 1946, divorced)
  • Pink Bradley
    (m. 1951, divorced)
  • Gene Mobley
    (m. 1957; died 2000)
ChildrenEmmett Till
AwardsCongressional Gold Medal

Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley[a] (born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan; November 23, 1921 – January 6, 2003) was an American educator and activist. She was the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old teenager murdered in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, after accusations that he had whistled at a Caucasian grocery store cashier named Carolyn Bryant. For Emmett'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."[2]

Born in Mississippi, Carthan had moved, as a child, with her parents to the Chicago area during the "Great Migration". After her son's murder, Mamie Till became an educator and activist in the Civil Rights Movement.

Early life[edit]

Born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan on November 23, 1921 in Webb, Mississippi, she was a young child when her family relocated from the Southern United States during the Great Migration, the period when hundreds of thousands of African-Americans moved to the Northern United States.

In 1922, shortly after her birth, Mamie's father, Nash Carthan, moved to Argo, Illinois, near Chicago. There, he found work at the Argo Corn Products Refining Company. Alma Carthan joined her husband in January 1924, bringing along two-year-old Mamie and her brother, John. They settled in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Argo.[3]

When Mamie was 13, her parents divorced. Devastated, Mamie threw herself into her schoolwork and excelled in her studies. Alma had high hopes for her only daughter, and although Alma Carthan said that in her day "the girls had one ambition—to get married", she encouraged Mamie in her studies. Mamie was the first African-American student to make the "A" Honor roll and only the fourth African-American student to graduate from the predominantly white Argo Community High School.[4]

At age 18, Mamie met a young man from New Madrid, Missouri named Louis Till. Employed by the Argo Corn Company, he was an amateur boxer, who was popular with women. Her parents disapproved, thinking the charismatic Till was "too sophisticated" for their daughter. At her mother's insistence, Mamie broke off their courtship. But the persistent Till won out, and they married on October 14, 1940. Both were 18 years old.[3] Their only child, Emmett Louis Till, was born nine months later, on July 25, 1941. However, they separated in 1942 after Mamie found out that Louis had been unfaithful. He later choked her close to unconsciousness, to which she responded by throwing scalding water at him. Eventually, Mamie obtained a restraining order against him. After Louis violated this repeatedly, a judge forced him to choose between enlistment in the U.S. Army or jail time. Choosing the former, he joined the Army in 1943.[5]

In 1945, Ms. Till received notice from the War Department that, while serving in Italy, her husband was executed due to "willful misconduct". Her attempts to learn more were comprehensively blocked by the United States Army bureaucracy.[6] The full details of Louis Till's criminal charges and execution emerged only ten years later. He (along with accomplice Fred A. McMurray) had been charged with raping and murdering an Italian woman. Both men were tried and convicted by a U.S. Army general court-martial and their sentence was death by hanging. Their sentences were appealed, but the appeals were denied.[7] Both of their bodies were buried near the First World War U.S. Cemetery located at Oise-Aisne in an area known as Plot E, or the Fifth Field. Later analysis of the trial by John Edgar Wideman would call Louis Till's guilt into question.[8]

During the decade after the Second World War, Mamie had two brief marriages that both ended in divorce, first to Lemorse Mallory (in 1946)[9][10] and then to Pink Bradley (1951).[3] By the early 1950s, Mamie and Emmett had moved to Chicago's South Side. Mamie worked in the Air Force as a clerk who was in charge of confidential files. She worked more than 12-hour days and Emmett took care of the home while she was at work.[11]

Murder of Emmett Till[edit]

In 1955, when Emmett was 14, his mother put him on the train to spend the summer visiting his cousins at the home of his great-uncle Moses Wright in Money, Mississippi. Before Emmett left for the vacation, his mother warned him that Chicago and Mississippi were different, that he would have to act differently, and he should know how to behave in front of whites in the South.[12] She never saw him alive again, as Emmett was abducted and brutally murdered on August 28, 1955, after being accused of interacting inappropriately with a white woman.[13] Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, on August 24, 1955, Emmett and his cousins went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to buy refreshments after working on a farm field in the strong sun. The market mostly served the sharecroppers.[14] Carolyn Bryant, the wife of store owner Roy Bryant, was alone in the store that day because her sister was watching the children. The precise facts of what happened at the store are disputed; however, Till was accused of touching, flirting, or whistling at Carolyn. At 2:30 in the morning on Sunday, August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant and his half-brother John William "J.W." Milam, kidnapped Till from Moses Wright's home. Till was abducted while he was sharing a bed with a cousin and there were a total of eight people in the cabin. Till's great-aunt offered the men money, but Milam refused it. They threatened death to those in the cabin if they did not let them take Emmett. Wright said he heard them ask someone in the car if this was the boy, and heard someone say "yes". Till admitted anyway to the men to being the one who had talked to Carolyn. They brutally pistol-whipped him, beat him, made him strip, and shot him dead before disposing of his body by dumping it in a river. Till was tossed over the Black Bayou Bridge in Glendora, near the Tallahatchie River. Emmett's face was unrecognizable because of the trauma. The only identifying feature that was a factor in identifying him was a family ring he was wearing. It was a silver ring with the initials "L.T." and "May 25, 1943" carved in it.[15] 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 on September 23, 1955. Four months later, one juror said, "If we hadn't stopped to drink pop, it wouldn't have taken that long." in an interview with Look magazine on January 24, 1956. Protected against double jeopardy, Roy and J.W. admitted to killing Emmett Till, and they were not tried twice. The men were paid and made a profit between $3,600 and $4,000.[citation needed]

For her son's funeral, Mamie 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 circulated the country. Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender (both black publications) published images of Till's body.[16] Mamie opted to have an open-casket funeral for five days at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ. 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 more successful fundraising campaigns the NAACP had known.[citation needed][according to whom?]


After her son's murder, it became quickly evident that Till-Mobley was an effective public speaker.[17] She enjoyed a close relationship with many African-American media outlets,[17] and the NAACP hired her to go on a speaking tour around the country and share her son's story.[18] This was one of the most successful fundraising tours in NAACP history,[18] though it was cut short by a business dispute with NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins over payment for her being on tour.[19] Till-Mobley continued speaking out, and in an effort to influence the jury during the trial of her son's murderers she flew to Mississippi and provided testimony.[17]

Till-Mobley's activism extended far beyond what she did in the wake of her son's death. However, since her Emmett's death became symbolic of the lynchings of the mid-1950s, she remains most well-known in that context.[17] For this, and all her activism, Till-Mobley was able to use her role as a mother to relate to other people, and gain support for the cause of racial justice.[17]

A large part of Till-Mobley's work and activism centered around education, as she advocated for children living in poverty for over 40 years,[20] including 23 years teaching in the Chicago public school system.[19] Till-Mobley established "The Emmett Till Players," a theater group that worked with school children outside of the classroom, learning and performing famous speeches by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr[19] to inspire hope, unity, and determination to their audiences.

Later life and education[edit]

Till-Mobley graduated from Chicago Teachers College in 1960 (now Chicago State University, 1971). She became a teacher and continued her life as an activist working to educate people about what happened to her son.[citation needed]

In 1971, Till-Mobley obtained a master's degree in educational administration from Loyola University Chicago.[21]

In 1992, 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. Bryant expressed no remorse and stated, "Emmett Till is dead. I don't know why he can't just stay dead."[22]

Personal life and death[edit]

Mamie Till-Bradley married Gene Mobley on June 24, 1957, and later changed her surname to Till-Mobley. She and Mobley remained happily married until Gene's death from a stroke on March 18, 2000.[23]

On January 6, 2003, Till-Mobley died of heart failure at the age of 81. She was buried near her son in Burr Oak Cemetery, where her monument reads, "Her pain united a nation."[24]

Till-Mobley coauthored with Christopher Benson her memoir, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America, published by Random House in 2003, almost 50 years after the death of her son. She died a few months before the publication of her book.[18]


Till-Mobley created the Emmett Till Players, a student group that traveled to deliver works about "hope, determination, and unity." She also founded and chaired the Emmett Till Justice Campaign. The campaign group eventually succeeded in getting enacted into law the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2008 and the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016.

Whoopi Goldberg announced in 2015 plans for a film called Till, based on Till-Mobley's book and her play, The Face of Emmett Till. Danielle Deadwyler plays Till-Mobley, with newcomer Jalyn Hall as Emmett and Goldberg as Mamie Till's mother, Alma Carthan. The film, directed by Chinonye Chukwu, was theatrically released on October 14, 2022. Most of the movie is about Emmett's mother and her activism after her son's murder.

Till-Mobley is portrayed by Adrienne Warren in the six-part 2022 television drama Women of the Movement.

Congress awarded Till-Mobley and Emmett Till a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal in 2022, to be put on display at the National Museum of African American History.

In 2023, a statue of Till-Mobley in a plaza dedicated to her was unveiled in front of the Argo Community High School, where Till-Mobley had graduated as an honor student, in Summit, Illinois.

On July 25, 2023, what would have been Emmett Till's 82nd birthday, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation designating the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument.

There are a 100 years of failed efforts by the federal government to make lynching a federal crime. Legislation to criminalize lynching was first introduced in 1900. 4,400 Blacks between 1877 and 1950 were lynched. President Joe Biden in 2022 signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. The bill was named for Emmett Till. The bill made lynching punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Three lawmakers opposed this bill because they did not agree with the definition of lynching. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris sponsored the law with Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, when she was still in the Senate.[25]


  1. ^ Also often referred to by using her third husband's name as Mamie Till-Bradley,[1] she married Gene Mobley in 1957, after she first came to prominence in 1955.


  1. ^ "American National Biography Online: Bradley, Mamie Till". Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  2. ^ "See the photo Emmett Till's mother wanted you to see — the one that inspired a generation to join the civil rights movement". 28 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "American Experience | The Murder of Emmett Till | People & Events". PBS. Archived from the original on 2003-01-19.
  4. ^ Holmes, Evelyn (2023-04-30). "Mamie Till-Mobley sculpture, memorial for son Emmett unveiled at Summit high school she attended". ABC Chicago. Retrieved 2023-05-01.
  5. ^ Till-Mobley and Benson, pp. 14–17.
  6. ^ Whitfield, Stephen (1991). A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till. JHU Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-8018-4326-6.
  7. ^ MacLean, Colonel French L., U.S. Army (Ret). The Fifth Field-The Story Of The 96 American Soldiers Sentenced To Death And Executed In Europe And North Africa In World War II. p. 212.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Buckley, Gail Lumet (14 December 2016). "The Eerie Tragedy of Emmett Till's Father, Told by John Edgar Wideman". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 16 April 2022.
  9. ^ Anderson, Devery S. (2015). Emmett Till: the murder that shocked the world and propelled the civil rights movement. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781496802859.
  10. ^ Parker, Wheeler; Benson, Chris (2023). A Few Days Full of Trouble: revelations on the journey to justice for my cousin and best friend, Emmett Till. New York: One World. ISBN 9780593134269.
  11. ^ r2WPadmin. "Till-Mobley, Mamie". Mississippi Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2023-09-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "Till vs. the True Story of Emmett Till's Murder and Mother Mamie". Retrieved 2023-09-13.
  13. ^ "Emmett Till: Body, Death, Funeral & Face". HISTORY. 2023-07-25. Retrieved 2023-09-13.
  14. ^ Tell, Dave. "Bryant's Grocery & Meat Market - The Long-Ignored Site Where the Civil Rights Movement Started". Emmett Till Memory Project. Retrieved 2023-09-13.
  15. ^ "Emmett Till (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 2023-09-13.
  16. ^ "Jet Magazine". Emmett Till Project. Retrieved 2023-09-13.
  17. ^ a b c d e Bush, Harold (2013). "Continuing Bonds and Emmett Till's Mother". Southern Quarterly. 50: 9–27.
  18. ^ a b c "American Experience. The Murder of Emmett Till. People & Events | PBS". Retrieved 2016-12-05.
  19. ^ a b c Houck & Dixon, Davis & David (2009). Women and the Civil Rights. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 17. ISBN 9781604731071.
  20. ^ Fountain, John W. (2003-01-07). "Mamie Mobley, 81, Dies; Son, Emmett Till, Slain in 1955". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  21. ^ "Mamie Till-Mobley (obituary)". Washington Post. January 8, 2003. Retrieved Feb 13, 2023.
  22. ^ Till-Mobley and Benson, p. 261.
  23. ^ Till-Mobley and Benson[full citation needed]
  24. ^ BoweanKoeske, Zak; Bowean, Lolly (July 12, 2018). "'Trayvon Martin before Trayvon Martin': 63 years after slaying, Emmett Till still visited daily at Alsip cemetery". Daily Southtown. Retrieved 2018-07-14.
  25. ^ Dawson, Ben (2022-04-01). "The Emmett Till Antilynching Act: Remedy at Last". Children's Defense Fund. Retrieved 2023-09-13.


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