While visiting relatives in Money, Miss., in summer 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till of Chicago was kidnapped by two white men. One of the men said Emmett had whistled at his wife while in his store. For that, they stabbed him, shot him, pulled his eyes out of his head and split his head with an ax.
Days later, his mangled body was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River with a 100-pound fan around his neck.
The two men, whom eyewitnesses described as the killers during the trial, were found not guilty by an all-white jury.
Today, Emmett's mother will visit Buffalo for the opening of the play "Mississippi and the Face of Emmett Till," which she co-wrote to bring light to what happened to her son and present-day racially motivated crimes that go unpunished. The play opens tonight in the African-American Cultural Center's Paul Robeson Theatre.
"Emmett was a sacrificial lamb," said Mamie Till Mobley, now 79. "No one else's death affected the world the way my son's death did. It was a wake-up call. It let the world know how one segment of the population was being mistreated."
She said her son had a speech impediment and had been taught to whistle whenever he had trouble pronouncing a word.
In disbelief at the atrocity her son endured, Emmett's mother invited the public to attend his open-casket wake in Chicago with the goal of exposing the cruelty and blatant racism that existed in Mississippi. "I knew that I could not tell the world what I had seen with words. His body looked so horrible," she said. "I wanted people to know what was going on in Mississippi, and over 600,000 people saw his body. And it created a lot of unrest."
Emmett's brutal death galvanized the civil rights movement.
Mobley said Rosa Parks told her that Emmett's murder was weighing heavily on her mind that fateful day in December 1955 when Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man aboard a city bus in Montgomery, Ala. Her act gave birth to the civil rights movement.
"Rosa Parks was very upset over the way blacks were being treated," Mobley said. "And she was just so angry at what had happened to my son."
Mobley said the play is designed to mobilize people as the death of her son did decades ago. "There are still segments of the population taking advantage of other segments of the population," she said.