Woodlawn school renamed after Emmett Till

by Mema Ayi
February 27, 2006

Students at the former McCosh Elementary School will walk into the same building this morning with a new sense of pride.

Now the Emmett Louis Till Math and Science Academy, that pride extends into the surrounding Woodlawn neighborhood where former students find the change long overdue.

Gabrielle Jackson, a graduate of McCosh and now a sophomore at Hirsch High School, said the name change gives her a deeper sense of respect for her alma mater.

“I don’t know why it took so long to change it,” she said.

Current students at the school can tell you that Till attended McCosh before two Mississippi white men decided the 14-year-old should die for whistling at a white woman.

His 1955 murder was among the most significant events that led to the modern day Civil Right Movement.

Three generations of Jacksons are McCosh graduates and most attended the school from preschool through eighth grades. And like many others in the neighborhood, making Till’s legacy a permanent part of the Woodlawn neighborhood makes the family proud to have attended the school at 6525 S. Champlain Ave.

But some current students did not know until the story until last week.

Sixth grader Devon Jones said he did not know about Till until Thursday – the day before a dedication ceremony at the school where students heard from Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1st) and Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th).

Devon’s aunt, Delores Cooper, a student at McCosh in the late 1950s, said she remembers playing on the old playground equipment where Till had etched his name into the metal.

But she never told her nephew Till’s story.

Devon’s friend, sixth grader Dandre Seals, was a McCosh student before his family moved out of the neighborhood and he transferred to Marcus Garvey Elementary. With the new name, Dandre said he wishes he attended a school named for a boy from the neighborhood where he once lived.

Dandre told Devon and other friends shorten versions of the lives of both Garvey and Till’s.

“He tried to holler at a white girl and they killed him,” Dandre said of Till.

Like Devon, sixth grader Jacorey Thomas learned Till’s story last week as the school prepared for the dedication ceremony.

“He was a young boy who was visiting his uncle in Mississippi and was killed by two white men,” Jacorey said.

Like others in the neighborhood, Jacorey and Devon knew nothing of the school’s former namesake, James McCosh, a 19th century Scottish-American philosopher and educator.

The Jackson family said a recognized name for the neighborhood school will give the area a new sense of purpose, since even the eldest member of their family knows little of McCosh.

Gabreille’s grandmother, Gwendolyn Jackson, is a 1944 graduate of the school.

“I have no idea where they got the name (McCosh), I assumed he must have been white,” said Gwendolyn Jackson.

Cooper, who lives across the street from the school, agreed the name change will do more to inspire than a man even the school’s graduates knew nothing about.

“That was a good thing they did,” she said


Emmett Till