When it was reported this week that another sign commemorating Emmett Till had gone missing, the Emmett Till Interpretive Center had every reason to be concerned.
Since 2008, when placards marking places of significance in the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett around the Mississippi Delta were first posted, several signs have been vandalized: blotted with acid, shot at, left in the same river where the boy’s body was. was pulled from the water in August 1955.
On Thursday, the center announced on Twitter that the historical marker for the site of the former Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market in Money, Miss. — where Emmett went to buy candy and was later accused of flirting with the white shopkeeper, which ultimately led to his lynching by two white men — was gone.
But Allan Hammons, whose public relations firm created the marker for the Mississippi Freedom Trail, which was established in 2011 to commemorate the people and places in the state who played a pivotal role in the American civil rights movement, said he suspected there were no malicious intent was involved. .
On Tuesday, shortly after Mr. Hammons received a phone call saying the sign was “missing or damaged,” a colleague visited the site and saw the marking on the ground, Mr. Hammons himself in a telephone interview on Saturday. He then asked the Leflore County Road and Bridge Department to pick up the sign and store it until it could assess whether it needed repair or replacement. When Mr Hammons inspected the site after the placard was picked up, he saw large tire marks that he believed could have been from a “utility-type truck.”
He suspects that a truck driver accidentally backed into the post, perhaps without realizing it.
“This often happens,” said Mr. Hammons, who estimates his company loses five to six historical markers each summer due to human error. Mr Hammons added that he had no way of knowing whether this case was intentional or accidental.
But the Emmett Till Interpretive Center is reluctant to write off the incident as an accident, given the history of vandalism of signs commemorating the boy’s death.
According to David Tell, co-director of the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Kansas, the marking for Bryant’s Grocery was so damaged that it had to be replaced once in 2017. Tell, who has kept track of when and how signs commemorating Emmett were destroyed, said the marker was blackened to the point that the text and images were illegible.
Another sign on the bank of the Tallahatchie River just outside Glendora, Miss., where Emmett’s body was recovered from the water after being kidnapped, tortured and lynched 66 years ago has been replaced four times. The last sign to be placed was made of bulletproof steel, as so many others had been shot hundreds of times.
“There are a lot of red flags when the sign goes missing,” Patrick Weems, co-founder of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, said in an interview.
He said he received a call about the missing placard from a colleague overseeing aspects of the Mississippi Freedom Trail. Mr. Weems was in Washington, D.C., with Emmett’s family at the time, and inducted the first historical marker commemorating Emmett—marked with 317 bullet holes—at the National Museum of American History “to trace the pattern of vandalism in this area.” recognize historical markers,” he said.
“We still have many questions,” said Mr. Weems. “And we hope local officials won’t be dismissive and ask some more questions to get to the bottom of it.”
The Emmett Till Interpretive Center is working on federal protection for this marker, as well as many of the others commemorating Emmett and historic sites like Bryant’s Grocery, which he said were defaced every six months to a year.
“We’re tired of this, you know?” said Mr. Weems. “Whether this was an accident or not, there is a clear pattern of violence against these characters, and we think it is time for the federal government to act and take responsibility for this national American narrative.”