Propagating the Truth: Mamie and Me

In honor of Emmett Till’s 80th birthday on July 25th, we have invited our Emmett Till Archives interns to contribute to the blog this week. Read on for a personal reflection from Julianna Morgan.

Emmett and Mamie Till, 1954, Davis Houck Papers.

It was roughly two o’clock, my palms were overly sweaty, I had tears trickling down my face, and a tight grip on my index card during my first impromptu speech competition during Spring 2020. I had never expected to cry while reciting a speech in front of a judge and fellow competitors. Crying during an impromptu speech was not proper speech etiquette and my placing in the round was reflective of that fact. Public speaking, the nightmare requirement from educational institutions everywhere, is something most people would agree isn’t the easiest task. If there is one individual who can attest to this it’s activist and educator Mamie Till Mobley. Mamie Till Mobley was the subject of my speech that day.

Emmett and Mamie Till, Davis Houck Papers.

Although speaking about Mamie Till was difficult I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that day. I am honored to be writing about Mamie Till now more than ever because I am currently an Emmett Till Archives Intern at FSU. I have gotten to experience her story on a different level. Mamie Till is a true inspiration to me because despite the inhumane murder of her 14 year old son she utilized her voice to help facilitate a unified civil rights movement for the African American community. Mamie began making public appearances and speaking to crowds around the country alongside the NAACP. Seeking justice for her son would not cease, as she contributed to many documentaries and wrote her own autobiography titled Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America.

Mamie was brave. Mamie was courageous. Mamie was a change maker. She was the embodiment of true perseverance and as an individual who has faced many challenges in my life I know what that feels like. Mamie Till’s ability to process her emotions, grief, and heartache all while aiding her black brothers and sisters in their fight for equality not only demonstrated brilliant leadership but incomparable compassion. I pride myself in being a leader in my small community and on my college campus and watching/researching individuals such as Mamie Till has made me a better student, friend, daughter, and leader.

Mamie Till and her son’s coffin, 1955. Davis Houck Papers.

In the midst of my first summer of college I was witnessing my people being exploited, shamed, disregarded, terrorized, assaulted, and murdered on television almost every week. Every other day we view news headlines and viral tweets that display the injustices carried out by government officials, law enforcement agencies, and everyday citizens of America. Thinking about Mamie Till and her efforts pushed me to attend my very first protest in May. On May 30th of 2020, I peacefully exercised my First Amendment rights at the Florida State Capitol along side other youth leaders in the Tallahassee community; it was the first demonstration/protest I ever participated in. Groups of young people, of all races and ethnicities, were able to unite and stand up for a cause that has desperately needed more attention, just as Mamie Till did when she released the casket photo of her son and spoke to the media.

I truly admire Mamie Till because she didn’t let anyone or anything stop her from fighting for what she believed in! Mamie Till being a woman, a black woman at that, made it harder for her in America during the 1950s when white supremacy was heavily influential on government policy and the criminal justice system. Mamie Till continued to fight for her son all the way until she passed in 2003.

Published by Rory Grennan

Rory Grennan is Director of Manuscripts Collections at Florida State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives.

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