Will Emmett Till’s Chicago home finally get landmark status?


“His name is going to be remembered into eternity,” said Gordon, now a 72-year-old retired Chicago Public Schools teacher living in Robbins. “The place where he lived should be known for the history it holds.”

While previous efforts to landmark the building—most recently in 2017—have fizzled, Gordon said “the time is right now.” That’s not only because of an elevated awareness of the long-term effects of racism in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods in the current climate, but also because the property has changed hands twice in the past four years.

The second time, in 2019, it sold for $107,000, 39 percent below what it went for in 2016. That suggests to observers that “there might be problems we don’t know about in that building that could lead to demolition,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

Hoping to head off that fate, Miller’s group is writing up a landmarking proposal he said will be submitted next week to Maurice Cox, the city’s commissioner of Planning & Development, who they hope will in turn submit it to the Chicago Commission on Landmarks.

Blake McCreight, a principal of real estate investment firm Express Property Solutions, which bought the building in September 2019 through a limited-liability company, declined to comment for this story.

“Of course that building should be a landmark,” said Ald. Jeanette Taylor, whose 20th Ward includes the Till building in West Woodlawn. Taylor said she’s prepared to write a letter urging the landmarks commission to accept the proposal, but she wants to confer with Till family members first.

“We want to make sure the memory of Emmett Till living in that home is preserved and honored,” Taylor said, “But I don’t know what his family’s wishes are, and I don’t want to disrespect them.”

Taylor said she has tried to discuss the building’s status with McCreight and his partner in the firm, his wife, Wendy McCreight, but they haven’t responded to her.

Conferring landmark status on the building would prevent an owner from demolishing it or making substantial changes to the exterior. It would not prevent changes to the interior, which Miller said retains little if any of what was there when Emmett Till lived there in 1955.

It doesn’t appear landmarking could be accomplished by Aug. 28, the anniversary of the day white men killed Till, who was Black, because of a white woman’s false claim that he had touched her sexually and whistled at her. Perhaps it could happen in September, in honor of Till’s funeral in Chicago. There, Till’s mother, Mamie Till (later Mamie Till-Mobley), insisted on an open casket to expose the gruesome disfiguring effect the brutal killing had on her son’s face.

Chicago-based Jet magazine published photos of Emmett Till’s battered face, effectively galvanizing the civil rights movement. A hundred days after Till’s murder, Rosa Parks had him on her mind when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white person. This year, on the day of the funeral of civil rights hero and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the New York Times published Lewis’ final essay, in which he wrote that “Emmett Till was my George Floyd,” an impetus for him to join the movement.

In the summer of 1955, three generations of Emmett Till’s extended family were living in the two-unit building on St. Lawrence. A third unit was later added in the basement, and Till’s cousin Gordon and her parents moved from Mamie Till’s second-floor unit into the basement.

Like Emmett Till, Gordon attended McCosh Elementary School, three blocks away on South Champlain Avenue. The school and a stretch of 71st Street have been renamed for Emmett Till, and a park is named for Mamie Till-Mobley. Now, Gordon said, the city “should recognize the place where he lived before his life was taken from him.”


via Crain’s Chicago Business

August 20, 2020 at 06:49AM

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