A Mother on a Mission: Mamie Till-Mobley and the African American Rhetorical Tradition

Grants and Contracts Details


ABSTRACT This project examines the life and activism of Mamie Till-Mobley, whose 1955 decision to hold an open-casket funeral for her teenage son, Emmett Till, arguably made her the most recognizable grieving black mother of the Civil Rights Movement. I rely on a range of texts such as memoirs, speeches, interviews, and literary works, to answer three questions. First, How is Mamie Till-Mobley a central and influential agent in the story of Emmett Till? Second, How does Till-Mobley commemorate her son’s life after her 1955 casket decision? Third, How is Till- Mobley’s work and legacy relevant to contemporary social justice issues? In answering these questions, I explain how an African American rhetorical tradition influenced Mamie Till- Mobley’s actions as a mother, activist, educator, and playwright. When Mamie Till-Mobley approved Emmett Till’s trip to the Mississippi Delta in 1955, she did so only after providing her son with strategic lessons about how to survive the racism of the Jim Crow South. After white supremacists barbarically killed Till, Till-Mobley became an orator and mobilized others to bring widespread attention to her son’s death. Because she believed that educating black youth was a subversive act and a necessary ingredient for implementing societal change, Till-Mobley taught and mentored black children from the South Side of Chicago for more than twenty years. As a writer, Till-Mobley composed long-lasting texts and participated in creative projects to keep her son’s memory alive in the public sphere. Mamie Till-Mobley engaged in rhetorical work for over four decades after Emmett Till’s death, yet she is mostly remembered for her 1955 casket decision. This project contends that Till- Mobley was more than a one-dimensional activist or the mother of a civil rights martyr and treats her as a civil rights icon in her own right.
Effective start/end date6/1/236/30/24


  • Institute for Citizens and Scholars: $35,000.00


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