The murder of Emmett Till shocked the nation in 1955 and helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement. However, Emmett Till's death might not have provoked national and international outcry in the way it did if not for Mamie Till-Mobley's choice to have an open casket funeral to “let the world see what I’ve seen.” Over 100,000 mourners filed past Till's open casket to pay their respects over three days of visitation at Roberts Temple. Images and news of the memorial service and the extended viewing circled the globe, exposing the terrible inhumanity of white racism and violence against Black people in the South. Roberts Temple brought the injustice of Emmett Till’s murder to light and catalyzed the Civil Rights struggle for freedom. This makes it an essential American landmark that must be preserved. We aim to restore Roberts Temple to its 1955 condition to preserve this site as it was at this pivotal moment in American history.
Restoration of Roberts Temple to Its 1955 Glory
Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ has been remodeled many times since 1922 when it was constructed. In 1992, Roberts Temple was substantially remodeled, including refronting the building in lighter brick and changing the shape of the original façade. (See below.) The windows were replaced with glass block, the sanctuary was remodeled, and the second-floor balcony was removed.
However, much of the original structure remains. The original red brick façade remains beneath the newer brick work, meaning that it could likely be restored. Further, the overall massing, side elevations, and roofline of the building remain intact. (1) With the basic structure still in place, restoration of the church is possible.
A side by side comparison of the 1955 façade with the façade today. Source: Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, Landmark Designation Report, p. 29. Link. Creator: Chicago Landmarks Commission, November 3, 2005.
An Opportunity to Preserve Roberts Temple Before It's Too Late
Roberts Temple is a site of enormous cultural and national significance in real danger of being lost if we do not act to restore and preserve it. Today, the building is structurally unsafe. Although the church is still in use by the Church of God In Christ congregation, services are forced to take place in the basement rather than the sanctuary. The building is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable. With your help, we can reverse this decline.
Our first priority is to hire a structural engineer to evaluate the safety and structure of the building. We will then develop a remodeling plan to restore the building to its 1955 appearance, including restoration of the original façade, the sanctuary, and the balcony. We are working with MASS Design Group to lead the restoration efforts.
Please consider investing in the preservation of Roberts Temple to save this important site. Any amount you are able to contribute will help make the Roberts Temple restoration a reality.
The interior during the memorial service for Emmett Till versus the interior today. Source of the first image: Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, Landmark Designation Report, p. 17. Link. Creator: Chicago Landmarks Commission, November 3, 2005.
Landmark Designation Report: Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ. Commission on Chicago Landmarks, November 3, 2005. https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/zlup/Historic_Preservation/Publications/Roberts_Temple.pdf.