In August 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley tragically became an agent of change when her 13-year old son, Emmett, was murdered while visiting family in Mississippi.
Till-Mobley’s decision to show her son’s brutalized body in an open casket served for many as a catalyst to act against the injustices perpetuated against African Americans. Seeing graphic images of his corpse in Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender made it hard for people to ignore the violence being perpetrated against Black bodies. In fact, her own tragedy served as her own wakeup call as she mentioned in one of her speeches:
Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of all of us.
After her son’s death, Mamie Till-Mobley became an outspoken advocate in the fight for civil rights, speaking to groups around the country with the NAACP, and serving as an advocate for education. As a teacher in the Chicago Public School system for twenty-three years, Till-Mobley worked with young people both inside and outside of the classroom. She also continued to seek justice for her son in the years following his death, lending her voice to various documentaries and writing an autobiography Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America, that was published posthumously.