Three fraternity brothers at Ole Miss were suspended from their Kappa Alpha Order chapter after posing with guns in front of a sign honoring civil rights icon Emmett Till, who was killed in Mississippi in 1955.
Till, a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when a gang of white men tortured and brutally murdered him for allegedly whistling at a white woman. According to the Mississippi Center For Investigative Reporting, an "all-white, all-male jury acquitted two white men accused of the slaying."
His mother, Mamie Till, insisted his casket remain open at the funeral to show the world her son's mutilated body. Shocking pictures from the service published in newspapers all over the world drew attention to lynchings in the South at the time, and became a galvanizing force in the nation's civil rights movement.
The memorial to Till—which armed and smiling Kappa Alphas Ben LeClere, John Lowe, and a third unidentified fraternity member posed in front of—commemorated the site where his body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River.
The picture was posted to LeClere's Instagram with the caption, "one of Memphis's finest and the worst influence I've ever met." It was "liked" 274 times before it was taken down.
According to MCIR, the students also face a possible investigation by the Department of Justice. The boys did not return the publication's request for comment.
Kappa Alpha reportedly suspended the trio from its Ole Miss chapter, after news outlets provided a copy of the image to fraternity officials.
“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter,” Taylor Anderson, president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, told MCIR. “We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University.”
Deborah Watts, Till's cousin and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said she has unfortunately seen the offensive photo, calling it "disappointing but not surprising."
"It marks a pretty solemn spot," Watts told CNN. "This marks the spot where Emmett was shot, lynched and beaten. To see them standing there, smiling, is disappointing, but not surprising."
Sadly, this isn't the first time the Till memorial has been disrespected. Since it was erected in 2007, the sign has been vandalized, shot at, and ripped from the ground. “Our signs and ones like them have been stolen, thrown in the river, replaced, shot, replaced again, shot again, defaced with acid and have had KKK spray painted on them,” the Emmett Till Memorial Commission said in a statement on Thursday. “The vandalism has been targeted and it has been persistent. Occasionally, the national news has picked up the story. More often, these acts have gone unnoticed and been the responsibility of our community to maintain.”
Rose Minutaglio Staff Writer Rose is a Staff Writer at ELLE.com covering culture, news, and women's issues.