President Joe Biden signed a proclamation Tuesday to establish the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument. Till, the Black 14-year-old who was lynched in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.
His murder highlighted the racism and brutality faced by Black people throughout the U.S.
“It’s hard to believe I was 12 years old and I just, you know, I know no matter how much time has passed, how many birthdays, how many events, how many anniversaries It’s hard to relive this,” Biden said.
“Today on what would’ve been Emmett’s 82nd birthday, we add another chapter in the story of remembrance and healing,” Biden added. Parker was 16 when Till was lynched and is the last surviving witness to his abduction, according to the White House.
“When I was overwhelmed with terror and fear of death. I could never imagined the moment like this,” said Parker.
Parker was among other members of Till’s family as well as civil rights leaders, historic preservation advocates, and more in attendance at the proclamation signing.
“At a time when there are those who seek to ban books, bury history, we’re making it clear — crystal, crystal clear: While darkness and denialism can hide much, they erase nothing,” the president said at the White House signing ceremony, appearing to reference Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida with his remarks. “Only with truth comes healing, justice, repair and another step forward toward forming a more perfect union. We’ve got a hell of a long way to go.”
The signing comes amid escalating tensions in the U.S. over racial issues, like the inclusion of teachings about slavery and Black history in public schools. On Friday, DeSantis dismissed Vice President Kamala Harris’ criticism of the Black history standards recently adopted by the Florida Board of Education. Harris, appearing at Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.’s national convention in Indianapolis on Thursday, had taken aim at the standards, which include instruction on how slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.”
“Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she said in her keynote address. “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it.”
The vice president rehashed those comments at the proclamation signing ceremony Tuesday.
“Today, there are those in our nation who would prefer to erase or even rewrite the ugly parts of our past, those who attempt to teach that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she said. “Let us not be seduced into believing that somehow we will be better if we forget.”
Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument
The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument will be managed by the National Park Service, and comprises 5.70 acres across three separate historic sites in Illinois and Mississippi. Through the historical objects protected at these sites, the monument tells the story of Emmett Till’s too-short life and murder, the unjust acquittal of his murderers, and the activism of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who courageously brought the world’s attention to the brutal injustices and racism of the time.
While on a trip from his home in Chicago to visit family in the Mississippi Delta in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was accused of making inappropriate advances toward a white female grocery clerk. Emmett Till’s cousins and friends, who were present at the scene, disputed the claim. Four days after the alleged incident, he was pulled from his bed, kidnapped, and brutally murdered by at least two white men. Three days following this abduction, on August 31, 1955, Emmett Till’s mutilated body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River.
Graball Landing, located just outside of Glendora, Mississippi, is one of the three sites preserved by the new national monument. Graball Landing is believed to be the site where Emmett Till’s body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River. In 2008, the community installed a memorial sign that has been removed or vandalized multiple times since it was first erected. The most recent version of the sign – dedicated in October 2019 – is over an inch thick and bulletproof.
Till was just 14 when a white female grocery clerk accused him of whistling at her and making inappropriate advances during a visit to family in the Mississippi Delta. He was then abducted and tortured, and his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River. Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, both white men, were tried on murder charges but acquitted by an all-white jury after an hour of deliberations. Months later, the men confessed to the crime in a paid interview with Look magazine.
Till’s death became a pivotal event in the civil rights movement, with Rosa Parks saying his memory inspired her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in a historic act of defiance of racial segregation laws. The activism of Mamie Till-Mobley, who insisted on an open-casket funeral to show the world the brutality her son endured, helped galvanize public outrage and highlight the deep-seated inequalities of the Jim Crow South.
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