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Chicago To Honor Emmett Till's Memory With Landmark

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Chicago City Council voted this week to designate the childhood home of Emmett Till a city landmark. The teenager's murder in Mississippi was a tragic and seminal moment in the civil rights movement in the 1950s. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Claudia Morell reports.

CLAUDIA MORELL, BYLINE: Emmett Till lived with his mom in a nondescript, red brick two-flat home in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side. In the summer of 1955 he took a train down to Mississippi to visit his uncle, and for two weeks, he spent his days picking cotton with his cousin. But one morning, two armed white men kidnapped Till, one falsely claiming that the 14-year-old had whistled at his wife. Three days would pass before Till's body was found. His brutal murder was a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

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JEANETTE TAYLOR: And so before there was Trayvon Martin, before there was Eric Garner, there was Emmett Till.

MORELL: That's Alderman Jeanette Taylor speaking just after the city council here voted to make the House a landmark.

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TAYLOR: We still have a real problem in this country not addressing the brutality that HAS happened to Black folks but also making sure we apologize and recognize it. We will repeat history if we don't address it. These are the hard conversations that we're not willing to have, which is why, in this country, we can't move forward.

MORELL: Naomi Davis is a local artist and neighborhood activist who helped lead the effort to designate the house. She says the brutality of Till's murder overshadows what she thinks is another significant part of the Emmett Till story - the Great Migration, the movement of millions of Black men and women who fled the Jim Crow South to northern cities.

NAOMI DAVIS: We don't make a lot of the brilliance of Black people and the need for a true and new narrative about Blackness - that we built cities. I mean, we came here and points east and points west and created an economic boom wherever we landed.

MORELL: The house is located west of Jackson Park, where the Barack Obama Presidential Library will soon be located. Naomi Davis is working with the city to repair the house and transform it into a museum and cultural center.

For NPR News, I'm Claudia Morell in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIROLA'S "PERPETUAL LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.