A worthy cause!
President Biden has announced a new national monument honoring Emmett Till and his late mother Mamie Till-Mobley, Reuters reports. Just 14 years old at the time of his gruesome killing, Till was visiting family in Money, Mississippi from his home in Chicago when false allegations from a white woman resulted in his murder by racist white vigilantes on August 28, 1955. The violent murder sparked outrage across the country after his mother decided to hold an open-casket funeral, Till’s mutilated body appearing on covers across Black media sites. The teen’s killing helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement and led to an unprecedented racial reckoning in America.
While it’s been nearly seven decades since Till’s passing, his story remains alive and well as a haunting memory of the racial terror superimposed on Black people during those times and a reminder of the justice Till and his family never received, a justice still being fought for by African Americans today. The men responsible for his murder were acquitted and the woman who lied on him was never charged, just recently passing of natural causes at the ripe old age of 88 a few months ago.
The continued fight for equality in America is undergirded by stories like Till’s, President Biden just recently hosting a film screening of the movie “Till” at the White House in February. He followed up that event the next month by signing a bipartisan bill named in Till’s honor making lynching a federal hate crime for the very first time in American history. Now Biden has announced the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, designating three sites across 5.7 acres in Illinois and Mississippi in honor of Till and his mother.
“Darkness and denialism can hide much but they erase nothing. We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know,” Biden told attendees at the signing of the proclamation.
The monument is an attempt to memorialize the nation’s sordid history, no matter how uncomfortable it is for citizens. Biden’s efforts come in the midst of another era of racial reckoning movements, one that has undergirded the political sphere and divided Democrats and Republicans straight down the middle. With book bans and new educational guidelines rolling out across states painting American slavery as a 400-year workforce training program, the revisionist history participated in by Republicans has caused fury for those on the receiving end of more state-sanctioned trauma.
“Today there are those in our nation who prefer to erase or even rewrite the ugly parts of our past, those who attempt to teach that enslaved people benefited from slavery. As people who love our country, as patriots we know that we [must] remember and teach our full history even when it is painful. Especially when it is painful,” said Vice President Kamala Harris.
July 25th marks what would’ve been Till’s 82nd birthday. There are a number of monuments and sites across the country honoring him, including a statue in Greenwood, Mississippi, near where Till was kidnapped and his childhood home on the South Side of Chicago which was recently granted preliminary landmark status. Despite the ubiquitous nature of Till’s story and the countless television series and films dedicated to preserving his memory and educating the masses, some of the monument sites dedicated to the late teen, particularly those ones in Mississippi, have been repeatedly vandalized by gunfire.
The sites include Till’s funeral location in Chicago, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, and two others at Graball Landing in Mississippi. Now those sites will be considered property of the federal government, receiving annual funding of nearly $200,000 from the National Park Service to preserve them. Future vandals will face severe penalties and have the crime investigated by federal law enforcement instead of local police. The new Till national monument now joins other historic sites like the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and inventor Thomas Edison’s laboratory.
“America is changing, America is making progress…I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years and I try to tell young people that they happen, but they happen very slow,” said 84-year-old Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., the cousin of Till who was with the teen on the night he was abducted.
May this new designated monument serve as a space of education regarding Till and the fearless work of his mother in the aftermath of his passing. We can’t wait to re-visit the sites.
Cover photo: President Biden honors Emmett Till & mother Mamie Till-Mobley with new national monument/U.S. President Joe Biden signs Till national monument proclamation/Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Frantz/REUTERS