President Joe Biden signed a proclamation on Tuesday establishing Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National heritage. Till, the 14-year-old Black boy executed in 1955 after being accused of whistling with a white woman in Mississippi, became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.
His murder highlighted the racism and brutality faced by Blacks across the United States.
“It’s hard to believe I’m 12 and you know, I know no matter how much time has passed, how many birthdays, how many events, how many anniversaries – it’s hard to remember this,” Biden said.
“Today on Emmett’s 82nd birthday, we add another chapter to the story of remembrance and healing,” Biden added.
Biden was introduced by Till’s best friend and cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr.
Parker was 16 years old when Till was executed and was the last surviving witness to his abduction, according to the White House.
“When I was filled with terror and fear of death… I could never have imagined a moment like this,” Parker said.
Parker was among other members of the Till family as well as civil rights leaders, historic preservation advocates, etc., who attended the signing of the declaration.
This memorial will also honor Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, a prominent civil rights advocate. Until he was laid to rest in an open coffin by his mother at his funeral to demonstrate the horrors of his brutal murder in order to advance the movement for equal rights for black Americans.
“The new monument will protect places that tell the story of Emmett Till’s all-too-short life and racially motivated murder, unjust acquittal of 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,” according to a White House civil rights official who catalyzed the civil rights movement.
The memorial will include several sites related to Till’s life and murder, including the Roberts Temple of God in Christ Church in Chicago, where Till’s funeral was held.
Graball Landing in Mississippi, where Till’s body is believed to have been recovered from the Tallahatchie River, will be the second site.
The Tallahatchie County Second District Court in Mississippi, where Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury, will be the third court.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday, “The designation reflects the work of the Biden-Harris administration to promote civil rights and its commitment to protecting places that help tell a fuller story of our nation’s history.”
“When we talk about the civil rights movement, when we talk about Emmett Till’s story, this is American history, and it’s the broader story of America — about Black oppression, their survival and bravery in America,” she said. “All of that is connected.”
In March 2022, Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Anti-Hanging Act, which makes hanging a hate crime under federal law. Lynchings were used to terrorize the Black community in the United States, mainly in the South, from the 1880s to 1960s.
Biden’s most recent move comes amid legislative changes and restrictions on race-related education and school programs in conservative-led states across the country.
For example, Florida recently changed educational guidelines on Black history in the context of enforcement.”Stop the Woke Act,” which places restrictions on race lessons or training in schools and the workplace.
A change made to state education standards encouraged the curriculum to include “how slaves developed skills that, in some cases, could be applied for their own personal benefit.”
At Tuesday’s statement, Vice President Kamala Harris criticized such efforts.
“We have to remember and teach our entire history, even if it hurts,” says Harris. Especially when it hurts. “Today, there are people in our country who would mention erasing or even rewriting ugly parts of our past.”
Advocates of such educational restrictions say the law banning lessons could make students feel “shame” or “guilty” based on race. Critics say the law may violate its ability to teach nuanced lessons about racial history.
“We should know everything – the good, the bad, the truth, who we are as a nation. That’s what great nations do. And we’re a great nation,” Biden said. “For only truth can bring healing, Justice, correction and one more step towards forming a more perfect union.”