Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (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.”
In 1955, when Emmett was fourteen, his mother put him on the train to spend the summer visiting his cousins in Money, Mississippi. She never saw 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.” Only months later, in an interview with Look magazine in 1956, protected against double jeopardy, Bryant and Milam admitted to killing Emmett Till.
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. 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.
Mamie Till graduated from Chicago Teacher’s College in 1960 (now Chicago State University, 1971). 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. 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.” Two years later, in 1994, Roy Bryant died of cancer, aged 63. Mamie and Gene Mobley were happily married until Gene’s death from a stroke on March 18, 1999. 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.