Emmett Till

Cousin of Emmett Till Keeps His Memory Alive While Pushing For Justice

Deborah Watts is the Co-Founder, Executive Director and President of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation

NBCUniversal, Inc.

It has been 66 years since Deborah Watts, lost her cousin Emmett Till.

“That was a 14-year-old boy that was brutally murdered,” said Deborah Watts,

Brutally murdered in the segregated south in 1955. Till, a Black teenager from Chicago, was in Mississippi visiting relatives. A white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, said he whistled at her and touched her in a Mississippi store. Till was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head. Till's body, weighted down with a large fan from a cotton gin, was pulled from the Tallahatchie River three days later. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on an open casket, galvanizing the civil rights movement. 

“Opening that casket actually opened the eyes of everyone across the country  regarding the kind of hatred and the treatment of African-Americans in this country,” said Deborah Watts.

Mamie Till-Mobley passed away in 2003. Deborah Watts, co-founded the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation in 2005, as a promise to her, committing to keep his memory alive, educate, and bring truth, justice and healing.

“They may not hear about Emmett Till's story in a public school environment, or even a private school environment. But we are there to help them connect the dots, and connect the past to the present and future, so that the things that happened in the past, the horrific things that happened in the past are not repeated,” she added.

As she continues her work, she has also gotten to know other families while they search for justice, including the family of George Floyd.

“It is a bond that, and I guess a union if you will, that we have with each other united by our pain, and also our passion to get justice, truth, and accountability for our loved ones,” said Deborah Watts.

Which Emmett Till’s family still seeks. Two men were tried for murder but acquitted. They later confessed to the crimes to a magazine writer, before they died.

“Our battle is not over,” said Watts.

They want anyone accountable for his murder held responsible. And while it has been 66 years, the foundation will continue to push forward with that, and keeping his memory alive.  

The new original documentary from NBC Chicago, "The Lost Story of Emmett Till: The Universal Child," examines the 1955 lynching of a Black teenager from Chicago who was visiting relatives in Mississippi and the impact of his murder on the Civil Rights Movement.

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