‘We Name Schools After Heroes’

Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 13, 2006

A wide-eyed seventh-grader who walked the halls of James McCosh Elementary School some 50 years ago will soon have his name emblazoned on the marquee outside it.

On Feb. 24, McCosh will be rededicated as the Emmett Louis Till Math & Science Academy, honoring the 14-year-old former McCosh student whose murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

“Emmett Till had a place in history,” said Barbara Eason-Watkins, the former McCosh principal who now serves as chief education officer for the Chicago Public Schools. “I think it’s a very positive change.”

McCosh pupils know the story of Till’s violent death at the hands of Mississippi racists. The tale, in student verse and prose, fills a first-floor bulletin board.

WHO WAS JAMES MCCOSH?

A Scotsman by birth, he lived from 1811 to 1894, and in 1868 became the 11th president of what is now Princeton University.

Educated in religion and philosophy, he was considered an important thinker and led the school for 20 years.

During an August 1955 visit with relatives in Money, Miss., the young Chicagoan, who was African-American, supposedly “wolf-whistled” at a white woman in a grocery store.

Eight days later, a fisherman found Till’s battered body in the Tallahatchie River, a 75-pound steel cotton gin fan fastened to his neck with barbed wire.

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McCosh’s name change was suggested by a community activist who reasoned that Till’s legacy was more meaningful to Chicagoans than that of James McCosh, the former Scottish-American president of Princeton University.

Chicago School Board members approved the idea in November—a decision that would have made Till’s mother, who later became a CPS teacher, proud, said Till’s second cousin, Abriel Thomas. Mamie Till Bradley Mobley died in 2003 at age 81.

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