President Joe Biden will designate a national monument in honor of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley across three sites in Mississippi and Illinois.
Till was a 14-year-old Black child from Chicago who was visiting family in Money, Miss., in August 1955 when two white men brutally murdered him after a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, alleged he had flirted with her (she would later admit she had lied when she claimed he had grabbed her by her hips). His death, and his mother’s actions afterward, helped galvanize the civil rights movement.
A White House memo says Biden will deliver remarks and sign a proclamation establishing the monument on Tuesday, July 25—what would have been Emmett Till’s 82nd birthday.
The Mississippi sites will include Graball Landing in Glendora, Miss., the site beside the Tallahatchie River where many believe Till’s beaten body was recovered; and the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Miss., where an all-white jury acquitted his killers Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam (both men later confessed to the murder in an interview with Look magazine).
The third site Biden is designating will be at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, the site of Till’s August 1955 funeral. After his body was recovered, Mamie Till-Mobley held an open casket funeral with a glass pane opening, ensuring the world would see Emmett Till’s brutalized face, swollen beyond recognition.
“Let the people see what they did to my boy,” she said.
Till-Mobley continued as a civil rights activist afterward until she died in 2003, but other members of the family, along with many civil rights activists, have continued to fight to keep her and her son’s legacies alive.
Mississippi Center For Justice President Vangela M. Wade, who plans to attend tomorrow’s White House signing ceremony, said in a statement today that she “applauds the Biden Administration for enshrining” Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley’s “story in American history.”
“Addressing the deep-rooted issues of inequity in Mississippi and beyond can only be achieved by confronting the darkest moments of our past,” Wade said. “The tragedy of Emmett Till and the bravery of Mamie Till-Mobley are integral parts of our history as Americans – and today’s announcement only further cements this fact. This new national monument will be a ray of hope and a symbol of progress in the face of a national movement to whitewash history. Justice is a constant struggle, and this significant step marks a critical milestone.”
Emmett Till’s cousin Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., who is the last living witness of his kidnapping, said in a statement this morning that the monument “will foster empathy, understanding and healing for years to come.” He is the executive director of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute and has led the preservation efforts.
“It’s been my life’s work to tell the truth of what happened to Emmett,” he said. “This national monument designation makes certain that Emmett Till’s life and legacy, along with his mother Mamie Till-Mobley’s social action and impact, will live on and be used to inspire others to create a more just and equitable society.”
In March 2022, after more than a century of failed efforts to pass an antilynching law, Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law. Its author was U.S. House Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.
“Lynching is not a relic of the past,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at a White House ceremony last year. “Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation and when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account.” She cited the 2011 death of James Craig Anderson, a Black man who died after a group of white teens in Rankin County, Miss., robbed, beat and ran over him in a Jackson hotel parking lot in 2011. Witnesses reported hearing one yell “White power!” as they left.
The Sumner-based Emmett Till Interpretive Center has been coordinating with the White House on the monument and will be an official partner of the park. The organization has long fought to preserve historic sites linked to the murder and worked to protect a memorial site at Graball Landing, which has long been targeted by white supremacists.
“After 15 years of hard work, we have finally achieved a designation that we believe is pivotal to our nation’s story,” Emmett Till Interpretive Center Executive Director Patrick Weems said in a statement today. “The lynching of Emmett Till and the courage of Mamie Till Mobley served as a springboard to the modern Civil Rights Movement, and preserving this history in perpetuity will serve as a continual act of restorative justice. We extend our deepest gratitude to the Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors, and Congressman Bennie Thompson for championing this vision of reconciliation, which has now become a national monument.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are investing millions to help rescue and preserve sites important to Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley’s legacies.
Last year, a group working with filmmaker Keith Beauchamp from the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation uncovered an unserved 1955 warrant for Carolyn Bryant’s arrest, but a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict her last August despite the discovery. She died on April 25, 2023, at age 88.
More information on the people and organizations behind the monument is available at savingplaces.org/till.