STUDENTS DISCOVER HOW PERSONAL HISTORY CAN BE
Rarely are students of history able to experience a fresh perspective of the past. Yet the students of Professor David Brodnax’s history class recently gained a deeper understanding of one of the events that energized the civil rights movement in America.
Not only did the beating death of Emmett Till in 1955 and the acquittal of his accused killers incite horror and outrage throughout America and Europe, it deeply and irrevocably changed the lives of a family.
Guest speaker Wealthy Mobley, Till’s cousin, shared with the class how the incident affected—and continues to affect—the family. Till, an African-American teenager from Chicago, had traveled to Mississippi to spend the summer with family. His mother, Mamie, understanding that her son didn’t comprehend the difference between race relations in Chicago and in the South, had warned him to be careful. It was Till’s alleged ‘whistle’ at a white female store owner that provoked the retaliation of the men who, after their acquittal, admitted to his murder.
That murder later influenced Mobley’s own mother in her decision to forbid him from visiting his father’s family. “My mother didn’t allow me to go to Mississippi,” he said, “so I wasn’t able to know my family there and never felt whole.”
Although Mobley had little contact with Till when he was alive, the younger cousin inherited Till’s bicycle and baseball glove after the teen’s death. Mobley’s mother also tried to protect him from the brutality of the murder, and it was years before Mobley saw the horrific and highly publicized photos of Till’s body.
Mamie had insisted the body be brought back to Chicago and that the casket be open during the funeral in order for people to see what had been done to her son. Photos of Till—shocking in that day—appeared in Jet magazine. Ironically, although Mobley was sheltered from these images, thousands of others saw them and would never forget.
Dr. Nelvia Brady, one of the faculty members attending the presentation, shared that her mother had used the photo as a “teaching tool” for preparing her seven children to visit their grandmother in Alabama.
Mobley said he does not often reveal his connection with Emmett Till but that he is inspired by the example of his Aunt Mamie Till-Mobley and blessed to be able to share with the students.
“Pray for me, and I will pray for you,” Mobley said. “This is how we get through such things.”
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