Loyola Creates Full-tuition Scholarship in Honor of Mamie Till-Mobley, the Mother of Emmett Till

A full-tuition scholarship has been established at Loyola in honor of Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy from Chicago, who was lynched while visiting family on Aug. 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi.

Warning: story includes mention of lynching and acts of racial violence. 

The Black Alumni Board (BAB) of Loyola University Chicago established a scholarship in honor of Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till on Oct. 21, 2022. Till, a Chicago native, was 14 and visiting family in Money, Mississippi when he was lynched by two white men on Aug. 28, 1955. 

Till-Mobley graduated from Loyola University’s Graduate School of Education in 1971 and is remembered by the university for her activism surrounding the death of her son. She held an open casket funeral and invited the press to see her beaten son, as well as receiving her masters degree in education in order to educate others about racism in America, according to the African American Registry. Her actions served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, according to an Oct. 18 Loyola press release.

Till-Mobely passed away in 2003, but she worked her whole life to ensure her son’s name would stand “for healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and hope” following his death, according to the press release.

The scholarship will be sponsored by the BAB and will aim to continue her legacy of advocacy for African American youth in Chicago, according to the press release.

The Mamie Till-Mobley (MEd ‘71) Scholarship will be granted to one high school graduate in the greater Chicago area who is recognized for their leadership or community service work within the Black community.

Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, two white men who lived in Mississippi, lynched 14 year old Emmet Till on Aug. 28, 1955. The murder followed accusations of Till whistling at Carolyn Bryant Donham, a white woman, in a store owned by Bryant and Donham, according to a briefing from the Federal Buraue of Investigation (FBI). 

Neither Bryant, Milam nor Donham were ever prosecuted for their involvement in the murder, according to a briefing from the FBI.

In 2021 on Till’s birthday — July 25 — Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot posted on Twitter about Emmett Till’s legacy.

“Emmett Till’s name remains a visceral reminder to continue the fight for equity and find REAL pathways to ending racism in all its forms,” Lightfoot wrote. “Today, we remember his life and all it could have been, as we continue to push for change and justice.”

Lightfoot said she recognized the role Till’s mother had in the growth of the civil rights movement.

“Through the courageous activism of Emmett’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley and other community members, this heinous act of racial violence became a catalyst for the #CivilRightsMovement, which has since transformed our nation and the world,” Lightfoot wrote.

Lightfoot later named Oct. 21 as Mamie Till-Mobley Day in Chicago, according to the Loyola press release.

Dominique Jordan Turner is the vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), which has been open on campus since Nov. 2021, The Phoenix previously reported. She was contacted by the BAB and asked to be the master of ceremonies for an event in honor of the establishment of the scholarship on Oct. 21. 

Also in attendance was Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., the cousin and the last living relative who was in the house that Till was abducted from in 1955, according to an oral history interview from the Library of Congress. 

The event was both a fundraiser and a celebration to honor the work of Till-Mobley and the important role she had in fighting for civil rights in Chicago, according to Jordan Turner.

“The event was phenomenal,” Jordan Turner said. “I think everyone was honored to be in the presence of some of her family and descendants and mentees who were in the room, really just sharing what her life meant to them.”

Turner said this event, for her, served to celebrate the “black excellence” which exists at Loyola, and she hopes this scholarship will help remove barriers for minority students who wish to attend the university.

“One of the greatest challenges and barriers for Black students coming to Loyola is money,” Jordan Turner said. “This scholarship will help to remove some of those barriers for entry. We want to increase enrollment of students from the Chicago area who embody her spirit and her legacy.”

Jeffery Beckham is an artist and the CEO of Chicago Scholars, a college access program for first generation college students in Chicago. Beckham presented an art piece titled ‘The Strength of a Mother at the Oct. 21 ceremony. The painting depicts Emmet Till next to his mother. He said he has painted Till in the past, but he has never painted Till and his mother together. 

Beckham said he felt inspired to paint the piece because he wanted to tell the story of Till-Mobley as a hero, but also as human. 

“The artwork and the people I choose all, like us, have stories of good and bad,” Beckham said. “There’s the part we know oftentimes, and there is the part that is typically missed.”

The university plans to hang the piece somewhere on campus, but has yet to announce exactly where it will be displayed, according to Beckham. 

Another artist who attended the event was Ayanna Williams, who goes by the stage name Yanna Cello. Cello is a cellist and Loyola alumni who graduated in 2017 from the Graduate School of Education, the same school from which Till-Mobley graduated in 1971. 

Cello performed a mashup piece at the event, which included music from A Change Gonna Come by Sam Cooke and Halo by Beyoncé.

Cello said she is glad Loyola is paying attention to black history now, but said she is surprised more people aren’t aware of Till-Mobley’s connection to the university.

“This is way overdue,” Cello said. “While I’m glad they did push this through now, this should have been done a long time ago and why it wasn’t I don’t know.”

Jordan Turner said Till-Mobley’s spirit was one of strength, courage and passion. 

“When I think about Mamie Till-Mobley, she is a reminder that one decision, one action, one micro-action can change the world,” Jordan Turner said. “I hope that is a reminder to people that her decision to have an open casket funeral for her son, that was the thing that she did that sparked the civil rights movement.”

Until recent years, there was not much information about Till available to the public, according to Elliott Gorn. Gorn is a Loyola professor who teaches American urban history classes and, in 2018, wrote a book about Emmett Till’s murder, titled Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till.

Gorn said he was inspired to write the book to bring attention to the “sheer brutality” of the case and of Till-Mobley’s story which is both “interesting and an important part of history.” 

“When she had the incredible courage to have an open casket and ask the photographer to come and photograph her son, there is this assumption that [the photos] were seen all over the country,” Gorn said. “They weren’t. White people didn’t see those photos until about 30 years later.”

Gorn said the photos were published in the Black press, but were not shown in mainstream publications.  

“What she did was very important, sparking the civil rights movement among African Americans,” Gorn said. “The people in the movement called themselves the Emmett Till generation afterwards.”

The establishment of this scholarship came one week before the release of the movie “Till” on Oct. 28, the story of Till’s murder and the actions his mother took after. 

Gorn said he has seen very positive reviews on the movie, and he likes the concept.

“The decision to focus and tell the story through Mamie Till was a really good one, the best way to tell it,” Gorn said. “Obviously Emmett Till is the victim here, but he is gone from the scene as much of the story unfolds. Mamie was really heroic in this.”

Lilli Malone

Lilli Malone