August 01, 2023

Duckworth: Preserving Roberts Temple Church in Christ Shines a Light on Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobley’s Legacies

Chicago’s newest national monument held Emmett Till’s history-making wake in 1955


[CHICAGO, IL] – Just one week after President Biden designated the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ as a national monument on what would’ve been Emmett Till’s 82nd birthday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today joined U.S Secretary of the Interior Deb Halaand in unveiling new temporary signage at the church for the new Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument site. With its new designation as a national monument, the church will be managed by the U.S. National Park Service to help ensure that the historic building will be restored and preserved so it can continue to share Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley’s critically important story as part of American history for generations to come. Photos from today’s event are available here.

“Looking out at all of you reminds me of the first time I visited this church, when I just had my baby Maile,” said Duckworth. “My baby and I were enveloped by the love that emanated not from the brick and mortar of this building, but from the people who were inside these walls. It did not escape me that day that although my baby was being loved in this building, another mother had laid out her baby in this very same room under very different, much worse, circumstances. We are here today to celebrate this site being designated a national monument, but we’re also here to recommit ourselves to what needs to be done to preserve our nation’s history and achieve a better tomorrow. It starts here. It starts in this great state. We're going to lead the way toward that better union. I’m honored to have helped reach this moment.”

Duckworth and Halaand were joined by several leaders, including Emmett Till’s cousin Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute Executive Director Dr. Marvel Parker, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ Pastor Cleven Wardlow, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Brenda Mallory, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Representatives Jonathan Jackson (D-IL-01), Robin Kelly (D-IL-02) and Danny Davis (D-IL-07), Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, Chicago 3rd Ward Alderwoman Pat Dowell, Superintendent of Pullman National Historical Park Teri Gage, National Parks Service Acting Superintendent Dee Hewitt and Northern Illinois Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ Elder Bishop Edwin Walker.

Duckworth’s leadership has been critical in the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ site designation. Duckworth originally introduced the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley, and Roberts Temple National Historic Site Act in 2021 and reintroduced the legislation earlier this year. Duckworth was joined by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) in reintroducing the bipartisan legislation.

Last Congress, Durbin pushed for passage of the long-overdue Emmett Till Antilynching Act. In March 2022, the legislation unanimously passed the Senate and was signed into law, explicitly making lynching a federal hate crime. 

Duckworth has made elevating disenfranchised communities and their stories one of her main priorities while in Congress. While working with the U.S. Department of Interior closely to designate Roberts Temple as a national monument, she is also working to preserve and uplift other stories critical to our country’s history, including the 1908 Springfield Race Riot National Historic Site.

A Chicagoan, Emmett’s wake was held at the Roberts Temple Church after the 14 year old was brutalized and lynched in Mississippi in 1955. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, made the decision to have her son’s funeral as a public, open-casket wake. The wake was attended by thousands and sparked international discourse over his killing and racist violence in America and is cited as one of the catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement. It has been estimated that more than 25,000 people viewed Emmett’s body on that Saturday and that more than 100,000 people filed past his casket in the three days before his burial on Tuesday, September 6, 1955 in Burr Oak Cemetery in suburban Alsip, Illinois.

In 2020, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ was one of the most endangered historic sites in the U.S., according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.