The casket seen around the world after Emmett Till was murdered in the 1950s was supposed to be preserved at Burr Oak Cemetery. But on Thursday, authorities found it rusting in a garage. Now his family is considering may rebury him elsewhere.
"It is appalling to see the condition in which it has been allowed to decay," Till's cousin, Ollie Gordon, said at an afternoon news conference.
The discovery was made soon after investigators announced that as many as 300 graves were dug up and the bodies dumped at the historic African-American cemetery so the plots could be resold in a money-making scheme. And with more people crowding the cemetery every day to check on their family plots, that number could rise.
Till was a Chicago boy whose lynching in 1955 was a touchstone moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. His body was exhumed in 2005, as part of the investigation into his murder, before being re-buried in the same location. But it wasn't buried in the same casket -- the original was supposed to be preserved for a Till memorial.
That didn't happen. Instead, the coffin was left to rust in the back of a garage, surrounded by garbage and discarded headstones, the Sun-Times' Mary Mitchell reported.
Upon seeing the casket Friday, Simeon Wright, another one of Till's cousins, said he wants to get it out of there, the Tribune reported.
"I'm disgusted," he said. "This is the lowest you can go. It shows how far greed will take you."
Gordon agreed, reading the following statement at the Friday news conference:
"Today the family of Emmett Till expressed outrage about the recent occurrence of events involving Burr Oak Cemetery. The family placed its confidence and trust in officials at Burr Oak, believing that a memorial would be built to honor the legacy of the young boy whose life sparked the civil rights movement in America. The family learned only yesterday that the original casket of Emmett Till, which was to be honored in the memorial at Burr Oak, has not been preserved in accordance with the agreement between Burr Oak and the family.
While Emmett Till may be one of the most well-known persons laid to rest at Burr Oak, the family recognizes the pain that all families are experiencing at this time. The family plans to take appropriate legal action to preserve the legacy of Emmett Till."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said it was "just filthy, just wrong," that Till's casket would be treated in such a way.
"Emmett Till is such a factor in our lives, and to think of Emmett Till's (casket) laying there, and his casket's just thrown into the back of a garage. And as Tom Dart says, he first opened it and a possum jumped out," Jackson said. "People here have had too much regard for this place and paid money for much too long. It's inhumane, and somebody has to pay the price."
Jackson reiterated his comment that "there's a special place in hell" for those responsible for disturbing other graves at the historic cemetery.
Sheriff's deputies are trying to control the chaos as thousands of families converge on the cemetery. But even with authorities swarming the grounds, two burials that the cemetery tried to hold Thursday had to be stopped because both bodies were to be buried in the wrong plots. One of them was slated to be put in an already occupied grave.
On Friday, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said 2,000 families had been to the cemetery, and of those, 30 new graves were found to be tampered with.
Dart's office is seeking an injunction to stop any new burials at the cemetery. The county comptroller is also moving to have Burr Oak's license revoked, and at least three separate lawsuits have already been filed against the cemetery owners and workers.