June 5, 2005
Till is reburied in solemn service
healing 50 years after slaying
By Tonya Maxwell
Emmett Till's first funeral united a nation in anger; his
second quietly brought together a family.
The 14-year-old, slain 50 years ago after allegedly overstepping racial
boundaries in the Deep South, was laid to rest Saturday morning in an
Alsip cemetery, just south of Chicago. No one was convicted of Till's
murder and federal officials disinterred his remains Wednesday as part of
a new investigation.
In a simple processional, the green hearse carrying Till's remains
followed a sheriff's patrol car into
Burr Oak Cemetery. The
vehicles passed the crypt, surrounded by springtime marigolds, of Till's
Under a white tent top, more than 50 mourners waited for Till to again be
After her son's death, Mamie Till-Mobley insisted that he have an
open-casket funeral, wanting the world to see how he had been mutilated in
a grisly murder. Thousands of Chicagoans came to pay respects, seeing a
face disfigured beyond recognition.
For Saturday's gathering, eight pallbearers--mostly cousins--accompanied
Till's new blue casket in a ceremony open only to family members and
The service was solemn and emotional, but with few tears, said Simeon
Wright, 62, who was among the last people to see Till alive. Wright could
not attend the first funeral and said the second brought back vivid
memories of a summer night in 1955.
Till came to visit family in Mississippi, including Wright, his cousin.
The boys were sharing a bed when two men came for Till early on the
morning of Aug. 28, Wright remembered.
Till left without protest as Wright's mother pleaded with the men to let
"I remember a young black boy who wasn't afraid walking to his death,"
said Wright, who was then 12. "He showed no open emotion."
Till allegedly had whistled at a white store clerk, Carolyn Bryant. Being
from Chicago, Till didn't understand the racial boundaries of the South,
His body was later found in a river in Mississippi, tied to a cotton-gin
fan with a tangle of barbed wire.
An all-white jury acquitted the clerk's husband, Roy Bryant, and his
half-brother, J.W. Milam. The men, now dead, said in media interviews
after the trial that they had killed Till.
But Wright and others believe that Bryant and Milam did not act alone and
that their accomplices may be alive.
Federal officials opted to disinter Till's body after learning he had
never undergone an autopsy and a cause of death had not been established.
Investigators will not tell Wright about autopsy results, except to say it
yielded information, he said.
Wright, who testified in the trial, said he is ready to again take the
stand in an effort to bring justice to his cousin's memory.
But if convictions never materialize, Saturday's 40-minute ceremony, with
five speakers sharing memories of Till's life and death, was healing, he
"I told the FBI if nothing else happened, today was all worth it," he
Before the disinterment, the family had been divided about whether Till's
mother would have permitted an autopsy a half-century after her only son's
the family was united at the burial and thankful for the new investigation
and for the reflection of the ceremony, said Wright and his wife, Annie.
"Mamie is saying, `Yes!'" Annie Wright said, gently raising her fist in
the air. "Because she was a fighter and she wanted to see justice for her
Afterward, when the mourners left and Till again was returned to the
earth, cemetery workers began resetting the simple headstone.
It carries a faded photo of a smiling young man. Like most markers in Burr
Oak, it lies flush with the ground, indistinguishable from a distance from
the hundreds of others here.
Down the path, his mother's marker explains how the family's history
became entangled with the nation's: "In memory of Emmett whose brutal
murder and the acquittal of his confessed kidnappers became the impetus
for the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-'50s."