CHICAGO — A tribute for Emmett Till focused just as much on the slain 14-year-old's legacy as it did the stories of black children killed in more recent controversial incidents.
The Friday night tribute dinner, part of a series held to honor the 60th anniversary of Till's slaying, was organized by surviving relatives. Till, a Chicagoan, was 14 when he was brutally beaten and killed by white men while visiting family in Mississippi on Aug. 28, 1955.
Till's mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted on holding an open-casket funeral and made efforts to share what had happened to her son so more people would be aware of how black people are treated in the United States.
Emmett and Mamie Till's legacy was honored throughout the tribute dinner, with speakers referencing Mamie Till Bradley's strength as the inspiration for their own actions when faced with racism and discrimination.
Emmett's mother's insistence on an open-casket funeral, exposing the brutality of Southern racism, is considered a catalyst of the civil rights movement.
Makayla Gilliam-Price, a 17-year-old activist from Baltimore, told the crowd to open the casket as Mamie Till did to push back against racism.
Parents of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Amadou Diallo and Kendrick Johnson spoke about losing their children in violent or controversial cases that have ignited debates about race and police actions.
Emmett Till "was the future of his family," said Ron Davis, his voice sometimes catching with emotion as he talked about his son's death. "Jordan Davis, forever 17, was the future of our family."
Jordan Davis was 17 when he was shot dead by a white man after an argument over music in Florida in 2012. Michael Dunn was found guilty of first-degree murder in Davis' death and sentenced to life without parole on Oct. 17.
Later, parents who had lost children to racism or discrimination were asked to stand. Lucia McBath, Jordan Davis' mother, was among those who rose.
It's "very sad to be here in one way ... but it's also a show of solidarity and strength and the resilience of our people," McBath told DNAinfo Chicago. McBath grew up in Hyde Park but now travels the country speaking about gun control and violence. She said she is "grateful my son's legacy is a part of Emmett Till's."
Speakers also called for attendees to push for equality for people of color, encouraging those present to attend an upcoming march in Washington, D.C., and work for change.
"It is evident that we have much more work to do," said master of ceremonies Cliff Kelley.
McBath said there is more social awareness of the inequalities faced by people of color and said the civil rights movement is undergoing a "rebirthing" through the involvement of millenials and social media campaigns.
Without progress, McBath said, "a whole race of people in this country are doomed."
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