The tree honoring Till was planted on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
As rain poured onto the Capitol grounds Monday morning, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., joined Republican senators and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to plant a tree on the north side of the Capitol in honor of Emmett Till.
Lewis and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran of Mississippi joined Holder to honor Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was brutally killed in Mississippi in 1955 after whistling at a white woman. Till’s death sparked outrage at the advent of the Civil Rights Movement and his murder still resonates today.
“Even today the pain from this unspeakable crime, this unspeakable tragedy, still feels raw,” Holder said.
Till’s name has been painted on signs carried by protesters marching after the recent deaths of two black teenagers. Protesters drew comparisons between Till’s murder and the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 and in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9.
Protests erupted in Ferguson and across the country after Officer Darren Wilson shot the unarmed Brown, prompting calls to review police militarization and reigniting a debate about race relations. With the grand jury verdict in Brown’s case expected in the coming days, the tree planting honoring Till took on a unique significance.
“The struggle goes on, and it’s not only Ferguson but a lot of communities around our country where we are dealing with relationships that are not what they should be,” Holder said after the event. “There is an enduring legacy Emmett Till has left.”
Collins and Lewis sponsored the effort to plant the American sycamore tree in honor of Till at the request of Janet Langhart Cohen, author of the play “Anne and Emmett,” which details an imaginary conversation between Anne Frank and Till. Cohen is married to ex-Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine., whom Collins worked for after graduating from college.
In May, lawmakers dedicated a tree on the Capitol grounds to Frank, and Collins believed there should be a similar dedication to remember Till.
“There is on these Capitol grounds another tree dedicated to another martyr to bigotry: Anne Frank,” said Collins. “The white chestnut is the same variety that she could see from the secret annex in which she hid in Amsterdam. In the same way, the American sycamore that we dedicate to Emmett Till would have been familiar to him in the parks and tree-lined streets of Chicago.”
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