Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Attorney General Eric Holder (center) and a host of other politicians and community members participate in a tree planting in honor of Emmett Till.
Several politicians and other community members expressed their condolences while planting a sycamore tree on the north side of Capitol Hill in honor of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was killed in Mississippi during the summer of 1955 after whistling to a white woman.
“Yet even today this pain from this unspeakable crime, this unspeakable tragedy still feels raw,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said during the ceremony on Nov. 17. “Perhaps, because those responsible for this hate crime were never held to account.”
“And perhaps because our history— including our recent history— is dotted with the stories of far too many other Emmett Tills, Matthew Shepards, and James Byrds: talented, thriving people, many of them young, with promising futures stretching out before them— all cut down, brutally and unnecessarily, because of what they looked like or who they were,” continued Holder.
Noted leaders who also attended the ceremony included Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) along with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Janet Langhart Cohen, television journalist and author of the one-act play “Anne and Emmett.”
“It was the end of my innocence as a child,” Cohen told CBS. “That August we got word from Money, Mississippi that a 14 year-old black boy, same age as I am, was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman.” Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was murdered.
Hilary Shelton, senior vice president of advocacy and policy for the NAACP said, “I think the planting of the tree was appropriate, thoughtful and heartwarming. To have the highest ranking law enforcement official there from the United States and the first African American Attorney General, Eric Holder, to participate in the event demonstrated how this tragic and horrific incident in America’s history is so vividly remembered by the officials responsible for our protection.”
When Till’s body was returned to Chicago, his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, wanted an open casket for the world to see what the murderers did to her son. Thousands of people came to view his mangled body. The two men who went to trial for Till’s murder were acquitted.
Many see the tree as a symbolic step to changing the way Black lives are valued in America.
“BYP100 is happy to see the life of Emmett Till both recognized and memorialized, in a time where black life is constantly deemed as something that does not matter,” said Jonathan Lykes, co-chair of the Black Youth Project 100. “BYP100 declares that Black life does matter and we will continue to work towards Black love, unity, and power, and we fight against systemic racism and institutional barriers.”