CHICAGO (CBS) — A wreath of white flowers marked the grave of a Chicago teenager, whose brutal killing 60 years today in the Deep South helped launch the civil rights movement.
Today, those who suffered through the inhumanity, reflected on those dark days and vowed to carry on the legacy of Emmett Till.
In the pews of Robert Temple Church, Wheeler Parker joined thousands at the funeral of his cousin, 14-year-old Emmett.
“The casket was right there,” Parker recalled on Friday, the 60th anniversary of Till’s horrific murder. “The church was packed. They were all in the balcony.”
Till’s funeral had attracted national attention because his mother insisted on an open casket, exposing his disfigured face to the world.
Till had been lynched for whistling at a white woman Mississippi.
His death marked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
“All I can remember is being numb, saying this is not Emmett,” Parker said. “I knew it had happened but it was like a nightmare.”
A nightmare Parker witnessed. He was 16 years old when three white men came to the family’s home looking for Emmett.
“I thought we would all die. They found Emmett and took him.”
Ilona Gersh was just six years old when she and her mother came to Temple Church to attend Till’s funeral. There were too many people to get in that day. Today was her first time inside.
“My mother was a desegregation activist,” Gersh said. “So when Emmett Till was killed in Mississippi, she thought it was important to participate in events in Chicago.”
Gersh returned to support the moment to keep Till’s legacy alive
Parker leads the movement.
“We need to remember the history so we don’t forget,” he said.