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Black and white photo of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till
Emmett Till poses with his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. In 1995, while visiting relatives, Emmett Till, 14, was lynched in Money, Miss. after being accused of whistling at a white woman. The brutality of his murder gained national attention and was one of the catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement.  Photo courtesy of Simeon Wright 

It’s Been 66 Years: Mississippi, U.S. Should Honor Emmett Till With A National Park

When Rosa Parks was asked why she did not move to the back of the bus in December 1955, she said, “I thought of Emmett Till and said I couldn’t go to the back.” 

Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, will mark the 66th anniversary of Emmett Till’s gruesome murder in the Mississippi Delta. He would have turned 80 years old this year—just two years older than the current president of the United States. It is time for our region, state, and country to finally honor Emmett Till and his courageous mother with the creation of an Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Mississippi Delta Civil Rights National Historic Park. 

Emmett Till’s murder is widely seen as the spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement. Since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the 14-year-old’s name has been repeatedly invoked, as when Oprah Winfrey stated she had “flashbacks of Emmett Till” while watching the Derek Chauvin trial. 

Rev. Wheeler Parker, Till’s last living cousin present for the events in Mississippi, noted in a recent letter: “Emmett’s story continues to resonate with people across, not just the United States, but the entire world. His tragic death and the bravery of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, are an important piece of American history. The time is now to fully ensure that Emmett’s story is always remembered.”

A purple Emmett Till River Site sign, riddled with bullet holes
The Emmett Till Memorial Commission’s commemorative markers dedicated to Emmett Till have been repeatedly vandalized and replaced. They have been stolen, thrown in the river, replaced, shot, replaced again, shot again, defaced with acid, and spray-painted with the letters “KKK.” A bulletproof sign now stands at this site. Photo courtesy The Emmett Till Memorial Commission

Our Ability to Tell the Truth

No one involved in the Till crime has ever been convicted for the brutal injustice. A grand jury meeting in Greenwood, Miss., in 2007 was the last attempt to charge Carolyn Bryant, the wife of the man who admitted to the murder after a white jury acquitted him, but the effort was unsuccessful. If she dies, any chance of judicial justice will end. In lieu of retributive justice, what is left is our ability to tell the truth. 

The same year that the grand jury failed to indict Carolyn Bryant, our organization, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, offered an apology on behalf of Tallahatchie County for the failure to pursue justice in 1955. The opening line stated that “racial reconciliation begins by telling the truth.” It was our hope that even the president of the United States would make a formal apology to the Till family for the miscarriage of justice. A national park could be a first step toward racial healing for our country. 

The Emmett Till Memorial Commission has been working since 2005 to commemorate the legacy of Emmett Till in the Mississippi Delta. We have partnered with the Till family in Chicago, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, the Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors, and other local groups to support the creation of a national park to honor Emmett Till and to lift up other important civil-rights stories across the Mississippi Delta, a region with a rich history of organizing and leadership.

The Economic Impact of National Parks

A national park would bring much needed federal resources into the Delta to preserve and interpret these vital historic sites for future generations. The National Park Service is charged with protecting both natural and cultural resources “for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” A national park would bring staffing to manage these sites and funding for the upkeep of the structures in perpetuity. 

Interior of the Tallahatchie County Courthouse
Over the last 15 years, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission helped raise more than $4 million to restore the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, the site of the murder trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, to its 1955 condition. This site is one of several that commission members hope becomes a part of the National Park Service. Photo courtesy Emmett Till Memorial Commission

National parks draw tourists from all over the country, and the potential economic impact from visitors traveling to the Delta and visiting each of these sites presents an opportunity for community growth, tax revenue and development. In 2019, National Park Service sites resulted in a $41.7 billion benefit to the nation’s economy and supported 340,500 jobs. Lodging expenses account for the largest share of visitor spending, totaling $7.1 billion in 2019. The restaurant sector benefited $4.2 billion in economic output.

More traffic to Mississippi to honor the stories of Emmett Till, Mamie Till-Mobley, and other important civil-rights figures stands to benefit communities all throughout the region.

‘The Time Is Now’: Sign the Petition

However, in order to create this new national park, we need help. The National Park Service needs to hear from local community leaders about why a federal park is necessary and about the positive impact that it would bring to the Delta and Mississippi as a whole. 

Please consider signing this petition that will go to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in support of the creation of an Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Mississippi Delta Civil Rights National Park. The time is now to make certain that Emmett Till’s story and the stories of other Delta civil-rights leaders are always remembered. 

We must ensure that the federal government recognizes the courage of Mamie Till-Mobley, Mose Wright and dozens of other local leaders who fought for change. 

To learn more about the campaign or to sign the petition, visit TillNationalPark.org/petition.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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