Roberts Temple Church of God: 4021 S. State – Civil Rights monument now part of history

roberts-templeThe Montgomery bus boycott, the integration of Little Rock Central High School and Bloody Sunday in Selma. The names of these cities, and many others, will forever be associated with the events that helped change America permanently, and for the better.

Unfortunately, one city has been conspicuously absent from this important list. However, in March of 2006, the Chicago City Council rectified that omission by declaring the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ a city Landmark, elevating the building, as well as Chicago, to its rightful place in modern civil rights history. Preservation Chicago is pleased to have helped facilitate this important designation by working with the church congregation and its pastor to attain their consent for Landmarking their church.

In late August of 1955, Mamie Till Bradley sent her 14 year old son Emmett to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi. Mississippi, like the rest of the Jim Crow south, enforced a strict code of social behavior between blacks and whites.

Shortly after arriving, Emmett and his cousins visited a store in Money owned by Roy Bryant, whose wife Carolyn worked at the store. Although the exact events have never been confirmed, it is alleged that Emmett wolf whistled at Mrs. Bryant. A few days later, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam abducted Emmett in the middle of the night. Several days after that, Emmett’s beaten and bloated body was found floating in the Tallahatchie River, the fan of a cotton gin tied to his body with barbed wire.

At the insistence of Mamie Till Bradley, the body was shipped back to Chicago for an open casket funeral. Mrs. Till Bradley was later quoted as saying that she wanted the world to see what had been done to Emmett.

In early September of 1955, as many as 100,000 people had gathered at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, located at 4021 S. State Street, to pay their respects. Because the body was so disfigured, nurses were stationed at the front of the casket in case anyone became ill at the site.

Photographs of the funeral were published in Jet Magazine, the Chicago Defender, as well as national and international media. These images were telegraphed across the world, bringing the brutality of racial segregation to an otherwise disengaged populace.

Shortly after the funeral, Bryant and Milam were tried and acquitted by an all-white jury. Several months later, constitutionally protected from further prosecution by Double Jeopardy, they confessed their crime in a Look Magazinearticle.

While the story of Emmett Till is a part of the past, the preservation of buildings like the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ will ensure that that history never disappears.