Hundreds of spectators were moved to tears Friday night when the city of Greenwood, Mississippi unveiled a statue of civil rights catalyst Emmett Till.
Till was a 14-year-old boy lynched in 1955 after allegedly flirting with a white woman in a convenience store. His mother's decision to have an open-casket funeral, revealing the horrible injuries he endured, is often credited as the initial spark that ignited the civil rights movement.
Near Greenwood's Rail Spike Park, the 9-foot bronze statue depicts Till in slacks with a brimmed hat, cheerful and alive. Madison Harper, a senior at Leflore County High School, spoke at the dedication about what it means for the city now.
“Change has come, and it will continue to happen,” she said via NBC News. “Decades ago, our parents and grandparents could not envision that a moment like today would transpire.”
Mississippi is home to the largest percentage of Black residents out of any American state, at around 38 percent. At Till's trial, his white killers were acquitted by an all-white jury. They confessed to the murder directly after.
Outside Bryant's Grocery, the convenience store where Till allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, sits a historic marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail. On countless occasions, it has been knocked down or defaced. A marker by the Tallahatchie River, where Till's body was recovered, has been vandalized and even shot.
Till's new statue will be video-monitored, but remains one of few civil rights monuments throughout the state. In contrast, there are around 60 confederate monuments in Mississippi, one being at the Leflore County courthouse, a short drive away from Till's statue.
At the time of Till's murder, Mississippi had no Black elected officials. Today, their current congressional delegation has just one Black member: Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who was also present at the unveiling.
“But you know, change has a way of becoming slower and slower," he said. "What we have to do in dedicating this monument to Emmett Till is recommit ourselves to the spirit of making a difference in our community.”