Graball Landing sits at the confluence of the Tallahatchie River and the Black Bayou. Many locals believe that it is the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. Since April 2008, the site has become the focus of national controversy, as the Emmett Till Memorial Commission’s (ETMC) attempts to commemorate the landing have been met by repeated vandalism.
It is difficult to say with certainty where the body was recovered. In 1955, there was widespread agreement that the body was found near Pecan Point, a few miles downstream from this spot. In 2006, the FBI concluded that Till’s body was discovered several miles downstream at a spot where the Tallahatchie River briefly dips into Leflore County. After being pulled into a boat, the body was then brought to Fish Lake Landing (very near Pecan Point), where it was finally removed from the water.
Regardless of whether or not Graball Landing is the correct site, the local belief in the validity of this site has made the landing a nationally recognized (and nationally contested) memory site.
The ETMC first commemorated this site in 2008, erecting a sign that claimed, unequivocally, “this is the site where Till’s body was removed from the river.” Within six months, the sign was stolen and thrown into the river. This was the first instance of what would become a repeated problem: vandalism. A second sign quickly replaced the first, but it was quickly filled with bullet holes.
In 2016, NYU student Kevin Wilson happened on the shot-up sign. He posted it to Facebook and, within days, the vandalism was covered by every major media outlet in the country.
The media coverage generated intense moral outrage and a widespread demand to replace the sign. When the big-hearted Brooklyn sign manufacturer Lite Brite Neon volunteered to fabricate, ship, and install a new marker free of charge, the commission quickly cut down the old sign to make room for the new one.
But without waiting for the Lite Brite sign to be fabricated, the ETMC bought a third a sign, identical to the first two, and dedicated it on June 21, 2018. It lasted only 35 days before it, too, was shot. And then, sometime between July 27, 2018 and September 10, 2018, three Ole Miss fraternity brothers posed in front of it with guns, trophy style.
The Lite Brite sign is on its way to Graball Landing in the fall of 2019. It will be the fourth sign for this location; it is bullet proof. Built out of ½” AR500 steel, and covered with a ¾” acrylic panel, the sign is designed to withstand a rifle round without damage.
Unlike the first three signs, the language on this sign addresses the history of vandalism directly. Believing that the bullet holes are part of Till’s story too, the new sign is designed to register the history of vandalism even as it resists future attempts to desecrate the site.
The history of vandalism and activism centered on this site led ETMC founder Jerome Little to observe that Graball Landing is both a beacon of racial progress and a trenchant reminder of the progress yet to be made.