ALSIP — Directly in the middle of a suburban cemetery, seven rows back from a pot-hole-filled cemetery road, sits the nondescript resting place of civil rights icon Emmett Till.
Though his final resting place may be humble, those gathered to mark the 60th anniversary of Till's murder on Friday said his spirit soars. It still resonates today, said political and community leaders who see evidence of a racist and unjust society in the recent, high-profile deaths of young black Americans.
"We come not just to remember Emmett but to commit ourselves in his name to fight all the conditions that murdered him, the conditions that still murder our children today across this country," said the Rev. Michael Pfleger in his opening prayer.
Friday marked 60 years to the day that Till, a Chicago resident, was abducted from his great-uncle's rural Mississippi home by two white men who accused the teen of whistling at a white woman.
Till was beaten and executed, his body dumped in a nearby river, where it wasn't discovered for three days. The story of his death in 1955 — and that of his mother's resolve — was a catalyst for the civil rights movement of the era.
His story and legacy is still a catalyst for those fighting for equal treatment for blacks in America today, said U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd).
"We stand here today looking back at a painful past and to forge a path to a more just future," Kelly said. "We must continue to unpack our racial baggage . . . so we can finally stop history from repeating itself."
Kelly was one of many community leaders gathered at Till's grave, the first ceremony in a weekend full of events commemorating Till's tragic death.
Joining local leaders were family members of black men and women recently killed in high-profile cases. The father of Mike Brown — killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri — and the mother of Trayvon Martin — killed by a community watch member in a Florida subdivision — were scheduled to speak at a dinner Friday night about the legacy of Till's death and its ties to the injustices they say were done to their children.
"We have more issues of race than we've ever had before," said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin. "[In Till's case] justice was never served. We're going to work today and everyday for justice."
Two men, now deceased, were charged in the murder but were acquitted by an all-white jury.
While speakers at the memorial looked to the present and future to try to make the point that the racism that killed Till still exists, they also allowed members of the Till family to grieve the death of a loved one.
"Emmett speaks," said the Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., a cousin of Till witnessed Till's kidnapping. "We thank him every time progress is made."
After the ceremony, Parker was asked to reflect on the relevancy of his cousin's death, 60 years to the day that he died. He said racial tension is "as American as apple pie," but that he still remains confident equal treatment will one day be granted.
"It's a hard sell, to be sold into slavery then go to being a free man," he told DNAinfo.com/Chicago. "I don't know how long the wheels of justice will grind, but they grind slow."
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