February 10, 2023
Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan) was an American educator and activist. She was the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American boy who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman. Two men faced trial but were acquitted by the all-white jury after a 67-minute deliberation. Only months later, protected against double jeopardy, the men admitted to killing Emmett Till. The brutality of Emmett’s murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew the attention of the entire nation. Emmett Till posthumously became an icon of the civil rights movement.
After her son’s murder, Ms. Till spoke publicly in an effort to influence the jury during the trial and even flew to Mississippi to provide her testimony. While the men were acquitted, it became evident that Ms. Till was an effective public speaker. Indeed, she enjoyed a close relationship with many African American media outlets, and the NAACP hired her to go on a speaking tour to relate the events of her son’s life, death, and the trial of his murderers.
Ms. Till married Gene Mobley on June 24, 1957. She graduated from Chicago Teachers College in 1960 (now Chicago State University). 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, Ms. Till-Mobley obtained a master’s degree in educational administration from Loyola University Chicago.
Ms. Till-Mobley’s activism extended far beyond what she did in the wake of her son’s death. A large part of her work centered around education, as she advocated for children living in poverty for over 40 years, including 23 years teaching in the Chicago public school system. Ms. Till-Mobley established “The Emmett Till Players,” a theater group that worked with school children outside of the classroom, learning and performing famous speeches by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. to inspire hope, unity, and determination to their audiences.
On January 6, 2003, Ms. Till-Mobley died of heart failure at the age of 81. She was buried near her son, where her monument reads, “Her pain united a nation.”