Two professors and a museum director are working on an interactive app to honor the legacy of Emmett Till in a new way.
“The goal is to use a smartphone app, with GPS technology, to tell Till’s story,” said Dave Tell, a professor within the communications studies department at the University of Kansas.
Tell said he and Patrick Weems, director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, have worked the past five years to put together the Emmett Till Memory Project, an interactive app that will guide users to 10 destinations in the Delta pertaining to Till. Two additional locations will be in Chicago, Tell said.
The app will provide narratives about the site during the time of Till’s death as well as afterward. It will also allow people to access archival documents and photographs pertaining to particular sites.
Davis Houck, a professor at Florida State University, has also been helping, Tell said.
The app will be produced by CurateScape, a mobile app framework system affiliated with Cleveland State University in Ohio. Tell said the app should be released Aug. 28, the anniversary of Till’s death. Its $14,000 cost was funded by a grant from the University of Kansas.
The app will be available for free on both iPhones and Android smartphones.
In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago, was lynched after whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money.
Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, abducted Till from his uncle’s home at night and tortured and shot Till before dumping his body into the Tallahatchie River.
Bryant and Milam were later found not guilty by an all-white jury. Till’s mother, Mamie Till, held an open-coffin funeral for her son to show the world the brutality inflicted on him. His death helped spur the civil rights movement.
Beginning in 2005, the state of Mississippi began setting up commemorative signs to honor Till. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the signs to be tampered with.
“They were stolen, shot, spray painted with the letters KKK,” Tell said. “In short, there were problems with vandalism.”
In July 2017, one side of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker that stands next to the Bryant Grocery store was defaced.
Allan Hammons, whose agency, Hammons & Associates, maintains the sign, said they were able to repair it and have since then kept a close eye on it.
Last August, a purple sign marking where Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River was found riddled with bullet holes. It had only been 35 days since it was installed.
An app is a good way to use modern technology to tell Till’s story in a way not subject to vandalism, Tell said.
In the fall of 2014, Google reached out to produce Tell’s idea for a Till app for the company’s Field Trip app, which is now owned by Niantic Labs. Rather than just having 10 sites, as Tell originally planned, Google told him to draft 50.
In the summer of 2015, Tell, Weems and Houck drove throughout the Delta to find sites related to the legacy of Emmett Till. In the fall, the three wrote write-ups for each site, explaining its connection to Till.
In 2016, the three’s collective work was added to the Field Trip app, which notifies users of interesting local spots when they pass them.
Tell said they didn’t promote the app heavily since he said he found some issues with it.
For one, Tell said it’s hard to locate the Emmett Till Memory Project within the app since other sites are listed in the app. Also, “it’s only useful if you only know where you’re going,” Tell said.
A few good things did come out of the work for Field Trip. Tell said he collected enough material to write a book, “Remembering Emmett Till,” which will be released next month, and a prototype of the app was developed to show potential funders what he’d like the final product to look like.
From 2016 to 2017, Tell said, they worked with Hammons & Associates to develop mockups of a new, revamped Emmett Till Memory Project standalone app. Ultimately, though, Tell said, since Hammons & Associates was writing the code for the app from scratch, the cost of the project climbed to six figures.
Tell said he applied twice for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to no avail. Eventually, the app producers were moved from Hammons & Associates to CurateScape.
Since CurateScape uses common code for multiple projects, the cost of the app was significantly lowered.
Eventually, Tell said he would like the app to incorporate augmented reality, which would bring up interactive graphics on the phone while a person is on site as well as virtual reality so students in classrooms far from the Delta can experience the locations.
“A lot of people clearly think (Till is) worth being remembered,” Tell said. “What’s really important is that we tell the story well.”
• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or firstname.lastname@example.org.