Chicago Renames Seventy-First Street "Emmett Till Road"

Emmett Till Road

Mamie Till-Mobley had always hoped that there would be a memorial to her son, Emmett Till, somewhere in his hometown of Chicago. “I often told people that a school would be a wonderful tribute,” she wrote in her memoirs. On Emmett’s fiftieth birthday, a tribute finally came. “Not a school, but a street,” she said, but in a way, this was much more satisfying: “A sign of Emmett that people would have to look up to for a seven-mile stretch of Chicago’s South Side. We were thrilled when the city of Chicago agreed to give a section of Seventy-first Street the honorary name of ‘Emmett Till Road.’”

The ceremony renaming the street was held on July 25, 1991. Hundreds of people attended, and one of the Emmett Till Players performed. Among the invited guests on the stand, besides Mamie and Gene Mobley, was Rosa Parks, civil rights activist whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in December 1955--just three months after Emmett’s murder--set off the famous bus boycott, and led to the rise to prominence of Dr. Martin Luther King. Also present was Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley and former mayor Eugene Sawyer. Local TV personality Merri Dee was also there.

After the unveiling of the first sign reading “Emmett Till Road,” Mamie Mobley said to the crowd, as reported in Jet magazine: “I feel if I had the voice of 10,000 angels, I could not express what this day means to me personally, for the city of Chicago and the world…This is a culmination of a lifetime of dreams. This day is a recognition of civil rights, Emmett and what must be done. As a mother, my heart is filled with pride. I know that what my son died for is about to be realized.”

Mayor Daley also spoke, saying: “The new street name is to commemorate a victim of racial hatred that exists in America, even today.”

Over a decade later, when Mobley recorded her memoirs, she elaborated on the significance of that day, and the street chosen to memorialize her son:

"What an appropriate choice Seventy-first Street had been, as the street renamed for Emmett. It connected so many communities, both black and white. It also was a street that ran as a sort of time line, linking so much history. A. A. Rayner’s funeral home was located there. It was the street where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was heckled and stoned by angry whites when he marched in Chicago. It also was the street that bordered the cemetery where Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, had been buried. There was so much to think about as we sped along. I thought about the connections. Those, and a motorcade of dignitaries honoring my son, and a motorcycle cop who could have been my son. If Emmett had lived to become the motorcycle cop he had wanted to be."

Emmett Till Road. A fitting tribute to a young man whose life ended so suddenly 36 years earlier. While nothing could ever bring closure in such a tragedy, the tribute did bring honor. And unlike the families of the men who got away with murder that day in 1955, Mamie Till Mobley had every reason to feel proud.

Emmett Till