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Oldest living relative of Emmett Till reflects on cousin’s death

Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 12:37 AM EDT
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Before there was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcom X, there was Emmett Till.

"I was in church in a little town where I grew up," said his 91-year-old second cousin, Thelma Wright Edwards, as she relived the moment she found out Till had been killed. "They stopped everything. They stopped everything and they prayed. And I cried. I cried and I cried."

Till, a Black 14-year-old in Mississippi, was kidnapped in 1955 and brutally murdered after being accused of flirting with a white woman in town. He had been staying with Edwards' father.

"I guess I was in shock, just man's inhumanity to man," said Edwards. "There's too much hate and it doesn't seem to be getting too much better."

Edwards visited Riviera Beach from her home in Ocala on Sunday to commemorate her late cousin in the Black Lives Matter movement parking lot project in front of the New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church.

"In our parking lot, the message is Black Lives Matter, too," said the Rev. Thomas Masters, founder of the project. "We want 'too' on the end of it because we want people to know that our lives are just as important as someone else that may not look like us."

Till's death is said to have sparked the civil rights movement.

He now joins other names of Black figures who were killed or died from gun violence, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

"When young people pass this way down this street, they will see the name of one of the youngest African-American kids that was murdered because he was Black, and that was Emmett Till," said Masters.

Edwards is Till's oldest living relative and said it's a tough story to share, but she has no hate in her heart for the people who killed him 67 years ago.

She was asked what her message to Till would be today.

"I would say keep looking up," said Edwards. "Change is going to come. It's going to take time."

Scripps Only Content 2022