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Wed, 11.23.1921

Mamie Till-Mobley, Hate-Crime Activist born

Mamie Till-Mobley

*Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley was born on this date in 1921. She was a Black teacher and the mother of Emmett Till.

Born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan in Webb, Mississippi, She and her family left the South during the period when millions of black Southerners migrated to the industrial North in the Great Migration to escape racial violence and Jim Crow laws. In 1922, shortly after her birth, her father, Nash Carthan, went ahead 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 two-year-old Mamie and brother John with her. They settled in a predominantly black and close-knit neighborhood in Argo.

When Mamie was 13, her parents divorced. Devastated, she threw herself into her schoolwork and excelled in her studies. She was the first Black student to make the "A" Honor roll and only the fourth black student to graduate from the predominantly white Argo Community High School. Aged 18, she met a young man from New Madrid, Missouri, named Louis Till. He worked at the Argo Corn Company, was an amateur boxer, and was popular with women. Her parents disapproved, thinking the charismatic Till was "too sophisticated" for their daughter. At her mother's insistence, she broke off their courtship. But the persistent Till won out, and they married on October 14, 1940. Both were 18 years old. Their only child, Emmett Louis Till, was born nine months later.

They separated in 1942 after Mamie found out he had been unfaithful. Louis later choked her close to unconsciousness, to which she responded by throwing scalding water at him. Eventually, she obtained a restraining order against him. After violating 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. In 1945, Mamie received notice from the War Department informing her, without a full explanation, that her husband had been killed during army service in Italy. She later said that she was only told that his death was due to "willful misconduct" and noted that bureaucracy had frustrated her attempts to learn anything more.

Louis Till had been court-martialed on charges of the murder of an Italian woman and the rape of two others in Civitavecchia, Italy. After a lengthy investigation, he was convicted and was executed by hanging near Pisa on July 2, 1945. But the details of Till's execution only fully emerged ten years later, after the murder of his son Emmett and the subsequent trial for that crime. By the early 1950s, Mamie and Emmett had moved to Chicago's South Side. Mamie met and married "Pink" Bradley, but they divorced two years later. Her son Emmett Till was killed in 1955. Till's death came three months before the Rosa Parks bus incident in Montgomery, Ala., and has been widely attributed with helping spark the civil rights movement. 

Till-Mobley turned her grief into a 40-year effort devoted to working with children in Christian activities. Mamie Till graduated from Chicago Teachers 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 remained happily married until Gene's death from a stroke on March 18, 2000. Mamie Till-Mobley died of heart failure at Jackson Park Hospital on January 6, 2003, aged 81. The same year, her autobiography, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America, was published. Till-Mobley was buried near her son in Burr Oak Cemetery, where her monument reads, "Her pain united a nation".

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