The unanimous vote awarded Till and his mother, both civil rights icons, the Congressional Gold Medal.
The United States House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Emmett Till, the Chicago teenager murdered in a racially-motivated attack in the 1950s, and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley.
The bill, which passed the Senate in January, is meant to honour Till and his mother – who had insisted on an open-coffin funeral to demonstrate the brutality of her son’s killing – with the highest civilian honour that Congress awards.
The medal will be given to the National Museum of African American History where it will be displayed near the coffin Till was buried in.
Till was abducted, tortured and killed in 1955 after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman at a grocery store in rural Mississippi, a violation of the South’s racist social codes at the time.
Four days later, he was rousted from bed at his great-uncle’s home in the predawn hours and abducted. His killing galvanised the US civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted on the open coffin and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalised body.
The Senate bill was introduced by Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Richard Burr. The House version of the legislation is sponsored by Democratic Representative Bobby Rush, who also introduced a bill to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honour of Mamie Till-Mobley. She died in 2003.
“The courage and activism demonstrated by Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in displaying to the world the brutality endured by her son helped awaken the nation’s conscience, forcing America to reckon with its failure to address racism and the glaring injustices that stem from such hatred,” Booker said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate.
Congress has been handing out the medals since 1776, with previous recipients including civil rights icons like Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine and Jackie Robinson. The designation comes months after President Joe Biden signed the first anti-lynching legislation, named after Till, into law.
Until March of this year, Congress had failed to pass such legislation nearly 200 times, beginning with a bill introduced in 1900 by North Carolina Representative George Henry White, the only Black member of Congress at the time.