CHICAGO — Sunday would have been Emmett Till’s 80th birthday.
City officials and West Lawn community members celebrated the occasion as his childhood home was honored as an historic landmark.
The non-profit group Blacks in Green, or BIG, recently purchased the property and plan to convert it into a museum and community theater.
Their goal is to celebrate the role of the Great Migration in leading to the development of Chicago as well as recognize Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley as key figures in Great Migration history.
Emmett and his mother were living in that home in the summer of 1955 when the 14-year-old boy left to visit family in Mississippi. On Aug. 28 of that year, white men stormed into his uncle’s home and snatched Emmett from his bed, accusing him of whistling at a white woman at a grocery store. His body was found three days later.
His body was returned to Chicago and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted that it be placed in an open casket and photographed by Jet magazine to show the world what racism looked like.
The photographs inspired those who took part in the civil rights movement, reportedly including a young woman named Rosa Parks who three months later was arrested for violating Alabama’s segregation laws by refusing to move to the back of a Montgomery bus.
Naomi Davis, the founder of the non-profit that bought the Till home was born one day after he died and her family lived close to the area where he was killed.
“We bought this property, this rundown building which we are in the process of lovingly restoring and up cycling it, to play a pivotal role in this neighborhood’s next chapter,” she said. “With the community, we are transforming Till Mobley home into a centerpiece of tourism to rejuvenate West Woodlawn, which was considered Chicago’s first black middle class neighborhood.”
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The group said it will take about three years to complete the project and restore the home.
B.I.G. also bought the vacant lot next door.