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Vandals rip down Emmett Till memorial sign

A sign marking the site where Emmett Till's battered body was pulled from a river in 1955 has been ripped down by vandals, authorities said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A sign marking the site where Emmett Till's battered body was pulled from a river in 1955 has been ripped down by vandals, authorities said.

The sign posted on a road near the Tallahatchie River was among eight that were erected after the county adopted a resolution last year apologizing to Till's family because an all-white jury acquitted two white men of murdering Till for whistling at a white woman.

Tallahatchie County Sheriff William Brewer Jr. said his office is investigating the incident, which authorities believed occurred Saturday night.

"We're not going to tolerate them tearing down anything that's marking Emmett Till's murder," Board of Supervisors President Jerome G. Little said Monday. "I want to send a message: Every time they take it down, we're going to put it back up."

Till, who was from Chicago, had come to Mississippi in August 1955 to visit his uncle. J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, the husband of the woman Till whistled at, snatched Till from his bed one night at the family's home.

The 14-year-old's body was found in the river three days later, a cotton gin fan was tied around his neck with barbed wire. His left eye was missing, as were most of his teeth; his nose was crushed, and there was a hole in his right temple.

His slaying shocked the nation, and nearly 100,000 people visited his open casket during a four-day public viewing in Chicago. A graphic photo of his face appeared in Jet magazine, and the images fueled national outrage and helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted in 1955. They confessed to the killing in a 1956 Look magazine article.

Past vandalism
This isn't the first time vandals have targeted Till memorials. Last year, a roadside marker on U.S. 49 in Greenwood in Leflore County was stolen. It was replaced with another sign. And, another sign in Tallahatchie County was damaged earlier this year, commission members said.

John Wilchie said the signs are part of a tourism effort to raise money to renovate the old courthouse in Sumner, where the trial of Bryant and Milam was held, and create a museum devoted to the case. Little said the county already has raised $4 million of the $7 million that's needed for the project.

"We see where some large tire prints are right there where they pulled up from the sign and went straight to the bank of the river. We feel they might have thrown it in there, but we're not for sure," said Wilchie, a member of the biracial Emmett Till Memorial Commission.

Till's murder investigation was reopened in 2004, but in 2006 a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict 73-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman at whom Till had whistled. Milam and Roy Bryant are dead.