The Emmett Till Memorial Commission has done more for the memory of Emmett Till than any other organization in the world. Since its founding in late 2005, the commission has transformed the landscape of Tallahatchie County. They have created a 9-site driving tour (10 sites if you count the Interpretive Center in Sumner) and renovated Sumner's Tallahatchie County Courthouse, the site of the 1955 Till trial.
The Emmett Till Memorial Commission was formed when economic opportunism momentarily aligned with the pursuit of racial justice.
Tallahatchie County has had two courthouses since the early 20th century. The second courthouse (in Sumner) was built because the Tallahatchie River was prone to flooding and residents on the west side of the county were cut off from their courthouse in Charleston.
In 1947, however, the county built a modern bridge over State Highway 32, eliminating the need for two courthouses.
As resources became increasingly scarce as the cotton economy tanked in the second half of the 20th century, the county could no longer afford to maintain two courthouses. All resources went to Charleston.
As resources went to Charleston, the Sumner courthouse began to fall into disrepair. Some observant journalists noticed this disrepair as early as 1955. By the turn of the 21st century, the Sumner courthouse was on the verge of being condemned. Had this happened, Sumner's entire legal industry would have been pushed out and the town would have been devastated. Thus it was that Harvey Henderson (a lawyer who once defended Till's murderers) approached local architect Richard Dickson about saving the courthouse. For while there was not tax money to repair the courthouse, there was grant money to restore the courthouse to its 1955 condition. When his job was on the line, Harvey Henderson jump-started the push to restore the courthouse and remember Emmett Till.
But it was not all opportunism. The idea for an Emmett Till commission was pushed by Jerome Little, the first black president of the county's Board of Supervisors. Along with Willie Williams, Bobby Banks, Robert Grayson, John Wilchie, Susan Glisson, and Betty Pearson, Jerome Little steered the nascent organization toward social justice.
While there were some, like Henderson, who cared only about saving the town, the ETMC was always driven by a strong contingent of folks seeking racial justice.
It was the racial justice wing of the commission that organized a press conference in the fall of 2007. It was a well-publicized and dramatic affair. With the Till family in town from Chicago and dignitaries on hand from across the region, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission offered a formal apology for the county's role in the Till murder.
Beginning in 2008, the commission began building the Tallahatchie Civil Rights Driving Tour, putting up signs by the courthouse and around the county at various Emmett Till sites.
For over 10 years now, the commission has been working to commemorate Till's murder. More importantly, the commission uses the murder to pursue racial justice in the 21st century. They offer youth internship programs, video-making seminars, tours, racial justice training, and community development opportunities.