Lynching Victim's Grave In Disrepair

The desecration of graves at a historical African-American cemetery in Chicago has revealed another tragedy: The grave of Emmett Till, whose death stoked the civil rights movement, has fallen into disrepair. An effort to raise money for a renovated resting place has also turned out to be a scam.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Yesterday, we brought you the story of a scheme at a historically black cemetery in suburban Chicago. Four cemetery workers have been charged with digging up hundreds of graves and re-selling the burial plots. And there's been a further discovery. Authorities have found the original casket of the civil rights figure, Emmett Till, rotting in an old shack.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: Emmett Till's death in 1955 galvanized The Civil Rights Movement. The 14-year-old Chicagoan was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was lynched. His mutilated and bloated remains shocked the world when they were put on public display in an open casket during his funeral. Till was buried at Burr Oak cemetery. Four years ago, his body was exhumed during a new investigation in to his death. And he was re-buried in a new casket. Co-county sheriff Tom Dart says, as investigators examined the cemetery grounds, they came across Till's original casket.

Sheriff TOM DART (Chicago): We went into, what'd best be described as a dilapidated garage - lot of lawn care equipment, piles of things. And in the corner of it, well, is a casket. We went and opened it. There was wildlife living inside of it.

COLEY: The casket was supposed to be part of a memorial exhibit for Till. But Dart says money that was donated for that purpose was pocketed by the cemetery employees who have been charged. At a press conference this afternoon, one of Emmett Till's cousins, Ollie Gordon, said the family was outraged by the events at Burr Oak Cemetery.

Ms. OLLIE GORDON: I did view the casket and it is appalling to see the condition in which it has been allowed to decay. We will be trying to move the casket as soon as possible to another location, so that it can be restored, if at all possible.

CORLEY: Gordon says while Emmett Till may be one of the most famous to rest at Burr Oak Cemetery, the family recognizes that many others are sharing the same pain. Authorities are still uncovering desecrated graves and missing headstones, as they continue an investigation, which is expected to take months.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago

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