Preservation Chicago recently suggested Emmett Till’s Woodlawn Residence and the Emmett Louis Till Math and Science Academy as Chicago Landmarks in an effort to recognize and honor his memory, and the civil rights movement that he helped to inspire. This suggestion followed the death of Simeon Wright, Emmett’s close cousin who was with him on the trip to visit relatives in Mississippi and with him on the night the 14-year old was kidnapped and brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman.
The Chicago Tribune published a front page, in-depth article regarding the nomination and the significance of Emmett Till to the Civil Rights Movement. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and reported widely including US News and World Report, the Houston Chronicle, the Seattle Times, and our own, Curbed Chicago.
Emmett Till’s Residence and the Emmett Till Elementary School, formerly known as McCosh Elementary School where Emmmett attended, are located in Woodlawn at 6427 S. St. Lawrence Avenue and 6543 S. Champlain Avenue respectively. While both buildings are attractive vernacular historic Chicago buildings, the essence of this nomination is their personal connection to Emmett Till.
“By honoring that name and honoring the story and making people aware of these sites gives you a personal connection to it all,” said Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago’s Executive Director. “I think it would send a wonderful message to the Black community of Chicago that these sites are important and these injustices should never happen again.”
In 2007, Preservation Chicago successfully lobbied to designate Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, located at 4021 S. State Street in Bronzeville as a Chicago Landmark. The church was at the center of the Civil Rights Movement for four days in September 1955 during Emmett Till’s funeral at which Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, resolutely insisted upon an open-casket visitation which compelled the mourners and the nation to act.
The red brick two-flat home with stone trim and a decorative cornice looks similar today to how it looked in 1953, when Emmett and his mother moved into the second floor apartment. “Emmett’s younger cousin Ollie Gordon said she lived in the garden apartment with her parents and brothers. An uncle lived on the first floor. Emmett and his mother lived on the second floor.” (Vivanco, Chicago Tribune, 11/13/17)
His mother recalled in a 1999 Chicago Tribune interview, “Emmett controlled 64th and St. Lawrence. For a three-block stretch, this was his land. He knew every old person. He did grocery errands. He did lawns. He (shoveled) snow. He made $15 washing and painting a ladies’ hall, from the lower molding down to the floor.”
In 2015, the building was purchased and renovated by Alex Al-Sabah, of Elite Invest, a Chicago construction and property management company, and was then sold to its current owner, New Jersey investor Brahmananda Bandela. Neither were aware of the building’s history, but both were interested to learn of the personal connection with Emmett Till and are supportive of the potential for Landmark Designation.
“The property is not on the market, but Bandela, a 36-year-old business analyst from India, said he’s received inquiries about selling the property, including one offer from a Chicago attorney a month ago to buy the property to turn the second-floor unit into a museum or children’s library.” (Vivanco, Chicago Tribune, 11/13/17)
“Money is less of an issue. I want to keep it more for the right party or stakeholder,” Bandela said, adding he is researching the landmark process.
Group pushes landmark status for Emmett Till’s Woodlawn home, nearby school, Leonor Vivanco, Chicago Tribune, 11/13/17