In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till traveled from Chicago to the Mississippi Delta to visit relatives. No one imagined that he would not return home. In response to what was very likely a completely innocent conversation with a white woman in a grocery store, two men, who were later acquitted by an all-white jury, fatally shot the teenager in the head.
To honor his memory and in recognition of the state's "bitter, painful" past, Mississippi's senators and other congressional lawmakers joined Attorney General Eric Holder and others to plant a sycamore tree on the north side of the capitol.
Holder, in his remarks, said that although the "unspeakable tragedy" of Till's death "still feels raw," it triggered key events in the civil rights movement and sparked bravery in the hearts of people like Rosa Parks, who thought about Till when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.
"So although Emmett Till died senselessly – and far too soon – it can never be said that he died in vain. His tragic murder galvanized millions to action," the attorney general said. "And today, we commemorate this legacy by planting a tree in his honor – a tree that will become his living memorial, here at the heart of our Republic, in the shadow of the United States Capitol."
Maine Sen. Susan Collins sponsored the tree planting.
Despite the progress cited by Holder and other officials that the United States has made in race relations, the deaths of Trayvon Martin and, more recently, Michael Brown, also teenagers, are stark reminders that there is much more work to be done.
"The struggle goes on," Holder said. "And it's not only Ferguson, there are other communities around our country where we are dealing with relationships that are not what they should be, be they official communities they are supposed to serve or whether it's on a more personal level. There is an enduring legacy that Emmett Till has left with us that we still have to confront as a nation."
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(Photo: ANDREW HARNIK/The Washington Times /Landov)