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The 1955 murder of Emmett Till was one of the sparks that lit the Civil Rights Movement.

The 14-year-old Chicago teenager was tortured and murdered during a summer visit with relatives in Money, Mississippi, after whistling at a White woman. The decision by his mother to have an open casket funeral displaying her son’s mutilated body showed the world the reality of racial violence.

Emmett Till’s family has donated the casket he was buried in to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which officially opens Saturday in the nation’s capital.

Till’s cousin Deborah Watts, co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, joined Roland Martin on NewsOne Now to discuss her family’s contribution to the NMAAHC.

Watts shared the decision to leave Till’s casket open during his funeral “was a huge moment for our country.”

The 14-year-old’s death and open casket funeral exposed “some of the dark parts of our nation and also exposed it to others who had probably been silent in their pain and their suffering across the country.”

Seeing Till’s battered, bruised, and mutilated body, “changed the hearts and minds of Americans and it woke us up,” said Watts. That “dark part turned into a spark that woke up the nation.”

In speaking about the family’s donation of Till’s original casket to the NMAAHC, Watts said, “It’s a solemn yet emotional time for our family, because that casket represents the final remains of Emmett, it also represents the rising up of our nation.”  

In the same fashion as the Mothers of the Movement have unwillingly found themselves embedded at the epicenter of the present day struggle for social justice, Till’s mother Mamie Till “was not expecting to be a part of the consciousness of America.”

Watts told Martin, “With this being part of the Smithsonian and our family making an effort to donate that casket to the Smithsonian, it provides us a memorial that will be there forever and hopefully be in the minds and hearts of everyone forever.”

Watch Roland Martin and Deborah Watts discuss the Till family’s donation of Emmett Till’s original casket to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the video clip above.

The NMAAHC in Washington, D.C. officially opens its doors this weekend. If you are in or travel to the nation’s capital, be sure to visit. For more information, visit


Watch NewsOne Now with Roland Martin, in its new time slot on TV One.


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Emmett Till’s Casket Donated To The Smithsonian National Museum Of African American History & Culture  was originally published on