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Bulletproof memorial to Mississippi civil rights icon Emmett Till replaces vandalized sign

A new bulletproof memorial to slain civil rights icon Emmett Till was unveiled Saturday in Mississippi after previous historical markers were repeatedly vandalized.

The new 500-pound reinforced steel sign, placed at the spot where the 14-year-old's body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, has a bulletproof-glass front, according to Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. The sign will be open to the public but also protected by a gate and surveillance cameras, according to the memorial’s commission.

About 100 people, including members of Till's family, attended the rededication ceremony, Weems said.

"Our community for 50 years was silent around what happened to Emmett Till, both the murder and later the injustice," Weems said. "It was just a really powerful day to have our community leaders, both black and white, from Tallahatchie County, along with the Till family, to kind of put a stake in the ground and say: 'We’re going to be resilient and continue to tell this story despite the vandalism.'"

The 14-year-old black youth was abducted, tortured and murdered in 1955. Carolyn Bryant Donham, a white 21-year-old shopkeeper in the town of Money, Mississippi, had said Till grabbed and wolf-whistled at her. An all-white, all-male jury in Mississippi acquitted two white men accused of the slaying.

Since the first memorial was erected at the site in 2008, Till signs have been vandalized multiple times, including with spray paint and acid.

Vandals threw the first sign in the river. The second sign was blasted with 317 bullets or shotgun pellets before officials from the Emmett Till Memorial Commission removed it. The third sign, a 50-pound marker, was removed in July after the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica uncovered a photo of three Ole Miss students posing with guns in front of the sign, riddled once again with bullets.

The commission said it hopes to use Till's murder to spark conversations about racism and pursue racial reconciliation, but the vandalism has "severely hampered" those efforts.

"We’re not naive enough to think that this is the last time that someone tries something," Weems said. "We’re hoping with these new modifications this will kind of symbolically be resilient and physically be resilient to overcome any type of vandalism that happens in the future."

Weems said the commission's ultimate hope is to develop the land by the river and have it designated as a national park. Vandalism at national parks is prohibited by federal law.


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