[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #13 in April 2013]
Introducing: The Emmet Till House. A Wish for West Woodlawn
Emmett Till lived across the street. He left for vacation in 1955 to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi; that same summer his body was returned to this city in a casket brutally disfigured, almost unrecognizable. Emmett was one of many residents of what has been called a “tight little island” (in the book of that name by Robert L. Polk and Cheryll Y. Greene): the West Woodlawn community in the mid-twentieth century. The building where Emmett resided with his mother is still in the same location at 6427 S. St. Lawrence. I would like to see the structure turned into an educational community center.
Books, magazines, computers, tables and chairs could be donated. The location can sponsor after-school programs, poetry slams, films, Saturday afternoon rap-sessions and block club meetings; on the walls would hang community collages, posters and photographs telling the story of Emmett Till.
Could West Woodlawn finally be considered worth saving by a visible, identifiable, powerful group that can use their influence to bring one community project to fruition? It is my present understanding that the building is owned by a bank. Could a noteworthy community coalition learn who owns what, the zoning laws, what is and is not acceptable in a residential setting according to city ordinances?
And what about the unkempt vacant lot on the north side of the building? At harvest time the basement of the building could serve as a food pantry where fresh vegetables grown on the vacant lot turned community garden are distributed to families in need.
Need more support? Two examples of locations serving as community centers can be viewed at 70th and Lafayette, the Smith Museum, and in the 1700 block of W. Garfield Blvd. In 2009, renowned Jazz Musician Ernest Dawkins and his band did a fabulous tribute to Emmett Till called “Until Emmett Till.” In 2008, Ifa Bayeza presented a lyrical Ballad of Emmett Till at the Goodman Theater. The poets/writers from the Neighborhood Writing Alliance read personal accounts of the 1955 tragedy at both events. And we must never forget the courageous group of women who organized as The West Woodlawn Women’s Club in 1935 to fight the unfair practices of the University of Chicago against the West Woodlawn homeowners. This club is still serving this community under the Presidency of Mrs. D. Moore (not one of the original women!). Do you know of possible supporters who would be willing to lend their names, talent and other efforts to a movement like this? A movement like this would have to be transparent to everyone involved regarding every single incoming penny, and all verbal and written agreements; open books, no dead in, shut out, undisclosed deals. The last information I have for the property owner is: Great Street Properties, aka ABE, 22 North Morgan, phone #312-733-9100, fax #9768. The web page was listed as greatstreetproperties. com. Could your influence and know-how open doors to information my voice cannot?
This is my wish for West Woodlawn. ◊