Chicago Peace Fellows Help Plant Garden at Mamie Till-Mobley’s Home

img
Princeton Fellow 2021

Before his brutal murder in Mississippi at age 14 in 1955, before images of his open casket funeral circulated newspapers nationwide, and before an all-white jury acquitted his white killers, sparking national condemnation and civil rights protests, Emmett Till lived with his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, at 6427 S St Lawrence Ave, Chicago.

Till-Mobley died in 2003, after decades of tireless work as an activist and educator. Her house was empty with boarded windows when Chicago Peace Fellows Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick and Annamaria Leon visited it in early May of this year. However, the house, along with its surrounding area, is now undergoing major rehabilitation.

TillGarden01

Just last October, the building was bought by Blacks in Green, a nonprofit which builds eco-friendly gardens and other spaces in African American communities in Chicago. In addition, this January, the city council voted to designate the building as a Chicago landmark.

This June 6, Pastor Fitzpatrick and Leon along with Naomi Davis, the founder of Blacks in Green, led a group of workers to plant a garden in the small 15 by 20 lot in front of Till-Mobley’s home. The lot, named the Mamie-Till Mobley Cultural Garden, is the first step in a long-term project to honor the legacy of Till-Mobley. Plans for the future include opening a museum in the building and transforming a nearby vacant lot into the Mamie Till-Mobley Forgiveness Garden.

In her prayers after planting the Cultural garden, Davis was unequivocal about the importance of their work.

“This is sacred ground, And so we want to understand who we are as a people through the stories we tell. We want to thank the creator and the ancestors for bringing us together in this space and time in a way that we can celebrate, and we can honor our losses and we can pass forward onto the triumph that we say is inevitable.” -- Naomi Davis, Blacks In Green

TillGarden02

Pastor Fitzpatrick also shared a prayer with the small crowd:

“We thank the family that lived here and taught us so much about race and racism and taught us how to, in the midst of adversity, remain faithful and trust you with all of our anxiety, all of our fears, and all of our future endeavors. We thank you [Lord] that this space is a space of forgiveness, and a space of love, and a space for peace, for joy. And that these plants that were so elegantly placed in position—that they will rise up and represent your love, your ancestral lineage that we will find as we come here to experience your love.”

Both Fitzpatrick and Leon are co-owners of Homan Grown, a social enterprise that employs members of the North Lawndale community to propagate perennial plants and trees in gardens and urban landscapes. Leon was also a co-founder of Homan Grown and a co-founder of the Permaculture Chicago Teaching Institute.

Fitzpatrick is the executive pastor of the Historic Stone Temple in North Lawndale. During the pandemic, she and her husband Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick transformed the church into a community hub for the distribution of food and cleaning supplies and were both recognized by TIME as 2020 Heroes for their exceptional public service.

Through her career in permaculture design, Leon has known Davis for over 15 years. When Davis acquired the Till-Mobley house and the adjacent vacant lot through Blacks in Green, she called Leon to help her transform the lot into the Mamie Till-Mobley Forgiveness Garden.

Unfortunately, work on the larger garden stalled, and the focus shifted to the smaller plot of land in front of the house.

Fitzpatrick and Leon chose many of the plants and trees that are now in the garden.

“I said, ‘tell me what you feel, what you think, and what you see, and then I’ll tell you what I think what I see. And then we can then take a look at the plants together and say what you think about [them].” -- Annamaria Leon

Both Fitzpatrick and Leon brainstormed what feelings they wanted the plants to evoke, and then found plants that would fit those goals, with advice from Naomi Davis and Roy Diblik, Leon’s husband who is also a permaculture expert.

The result was a vibrant garden with four types of shrubs and trees and 15 different perennial types of grass, such as ferns and Japanese Forest Grass.

“The composition is what makes the garden,” said Leon. “It is not so much the individual plants, but the whole. For example, some plants, like the Japanese Forest Grass, bow down [to the maple tree].”

“I would say overall, [the garden creates] the feeling of being uplifted,” Leon added.

Fitzpatrick had much more to say about the colors in the garden and what they represented.

“There’re many colors [in the garden] — yellow, green, purple. The maple tree reminds me of purity, royalty, and being a Christian, I would say the blood of Jesus because it has a redness. And the yellows are in the garden represent happiness... because Mamie-Till says that she never spent one day hating those who brutally murdered her son. So the garden represents a place to come in into experience forgiveness, and to see happiness.”

Work on the garden began at 8 a.m., June 6, on a sunny Sunday morning.

“I’m normally preaching on Sunday at 8:30, so I had my iPad on the trunk of my car so I could preach from the site,” said Fitzpatrick. Her message that morning was about forgiveness.

“I then had another service that started at 11:15, where my husband was ministering at Church in Douglas Park, but I was so caught up in the planting of the garden that I didn’t even make it to the 11:15 service,” Fitzpatrick added. “And that’s not like me to miss the service, but I wasn’t really missing the service because planting the garden with those beautiful people was my service.”

Gardens and green spaces are passions for Fitzpatrick and Leon for different reasons.

“We believe that we were created from the dust of the earth. Then when you’re in these spaces, you’re probably as close to who you are as you will ever be... It's a place of spiritual connection. It's a place of restoration and renewal.” -- Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick

“My focus is first on the plants, and I consider myself a developer for animals, insects, birds, and mammals,” said Leon. “My focus on gardens and meditative power is a byproduct of it...For me, the joy of it is creating a place, not just for people, but for everything.”

Related Articles