When informed this week that another sign commemorating Emmett Till was missing, the Emmett Till Interpretive Center had every reason to be concerned.
Since 2008, when signs identifying the significant locations of the brutal murder of Emmett, 14, were first put up in the Mississippi Delta, several signs have been vandalized: wiped out with acid, pulled over, left in the same river where the boy body was removed from the water in August 1955.
Thursday, the center announced on Twitter as the historic marker in front of the site of Bryant’s old grocery and meat market in Money, Mississippi – where Emmett went to buy candy and was later accused of flirting with the white merchant, which ultimately led to his lynching by two white men – was gone.
But Allan Hammons, whose public relations firm marked the Mississippi Freedom Trail, which was established in 2011 to commemorate the people and places in the state that have played a central role in America’s civil rights movement, said that he did not suspect any criminal act. .
On Tuesday, shortly after Mr Hammons received a call saying the sign was “missing or damaged,” a colleague visited the site and saw the marker lying on the ground, Mr Hammons recalled during a telephone interview on Saturday. He then asked the Leflore County Roads and Bridges Department to retrieve and store the sign until they could assess whether it needed repair or replacement. When Mr Hammons inspected the site after the sign was picked up, he saw large tire tracks which he said could have belonged to a “utility truck”.
The murder of Emmett Till
In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy, was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Mississippi after allegedly hissing a white woman.
He speculates that a truck driver may have inadvertently backed up into the station, perhaps even without realizing it.
“It happens a lot,” said Hammons, estimating that his company loses five to six historical markers each summer due to human error. Mr Hammons added that he had no way of knowing whether the case was intentional or accidental.
But the Emmett Till Interpretive Center is reluctant to view the incident as an accident, given the history of vandalism of signs commemorating the boy’s death.
The marker in front of Bryant’s Grocery was damaged to the point of needing to be replaced once before, in 2017, according to David Tell, co-director of the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Kansas. Mr Tell, who has kept track of when and how signs commemorating Emmett were vandalized, said the marker had been blackened with what appeared to be acid to the point that the text and images were unreadable.
Another landmark on the bank of the Tallahatchie River just outside of Glendora, Mississippi, where Emmett’s body was found in the water after being kidnapped, tortured, and lynched 66 years ago, has been replaced four times. The last panel to be installed was bulletproof steel, as so many had been shot hundreds of times.
“There are a lot of red flags when the sign goes off,” said Patrick Weems, co-founder of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, in an interview.
He said he received a call about the missing sign from a colleague who oversees aspects of the Mississippi Freedom Trail. Mr. Weems was in Washington, DC, with Emmett’s family at the time, inducting the first historical marker commemorating Emmett – marked by 317 bullet holes – into the National Museum of American History “to recognize the vandalism pattern of those historical markers, ”he said.
“We still have a lot of questions,” Weems said. “And we hope local officials won’t be dismissive and ask more questions to get to the bottom of it.”
The Emmett Till Interpretive Center is working to ensure federal protection for this marker as well as many others commemorating Emmett and historic sites like Bryant’s Grocery, which it said appeared to be disfigured every six months to a year.
“We’re sick of this, you know?” Mr. Weems said. “Whether it was an accident or not, there is a clear trend towards violence against these signs, and we believe it is time for the federal government to step up and take responsibility for this American national story. “