As of today, he is 82 years old.
WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden signed a declaration On Tuesday, the creation of a national monument in honor of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, marks the fulfillment of a promise Till’s loved ones made after his death 68 years ago.
Till’s cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr.
“We’re adamant that it’s now becoming an American story, not just a civil rights story,” Parker told The Associated Press ahead of a proclamation signing ceremony at the White House attended by dozens of people, including other family members, members of Congress and civil rights leaders.
With the stroke of Biden, the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monuments, located on three sites in two states, have become federally protected sites. But Till’s family members, along with a national organization seeking to preserve Black cultural heritage, say the work to protect Till’s legacy continues.
They hope to raise money to restore the sites and develop an educational program to support their inclusion in the National Parks System.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that the Till national monument will be the fourth designation by the Biden-Harris administration, reflecting its “civil rights promotion work.” The move comes as conservative leaders, mainly at the state and local levels, push for legislation restricting the teaching of slavery and Black history in public schools.
Jean-Pierre said the Democratic presidential administration “will continue to speak out against hateful attempts to rewrite our history and strongly oppose any action that threatens to divide us and set our country back,” Jean-Pierre said.
Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Commission on Historic Preservation, said the federal designation is an important milestone in a years-long effort to preserve and protect sites tied to events that have shaped the nation and symbolized national wounding.
“We believe that as long as Black history matters, Black lives and bodies matter,” he said. “Through looking back at America’s racist past, we have an opportunity to heal.”
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has provided $750,000 in grants since 2017 to help rescue sites important to Till’s legacy. Together with its partners, the Andrew Mellon Foundation and Lilly Endowment Inc., Leggs said an additional $5 million in funding has been secured for specialized preservation of the sites.
Biden’s statement defends the places at the heart of the story of Emmett Till’s life and death at age 14, the acquittal of his white murderers by an all-white jury, and his late mother’s activism.
In the summer of 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley put her son Emmett on a train to her hometown of Mississippi, where he would spend time with his uncle and cousins. During the overnight hours of August 28, 1955, Emmett was gunned down from his uncle’s house by two vengeful white men.
Emmett’s alleged crime? Flirt wife of one of his kidnappers.
Three days later, a fisherman on the Tallahatchie River discovered the boy’s bloated corpse – one eye had been split, one ear was missing, his head had been shot and smashed in.
Till-Mobley requested that Emmett’s mutilated remains be returned to Chicago for a public, public coffin funeral attended by tens of thousands of people. Graphics image of Emmett’s remainspunished by his mother, was published by Jet magazine and promoted the civil rights movement.
At her murder trial in Mississippi, Till-Mobley bravely stood as a witness against the corrupt image of her son that defense attorneys painted for the jury and those watching the trial.
Overall, Till National Monument will consist of 5.7 acres (2.3 ha) of land and two historic buildings. The sites in Mississippi are Graball Landing, where Emmett’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River just outside Glendora, Mississippi, and the Tallahatchie Second District Court in Sumner, Mississippi, where Emmett’s killers were tried.
There is now an Emmett Till Performance Center in Sumner, which has received charity funding to expand the program and pay guest communication staff.
At Graball Landing, a memorial sign installed in 2008 was repeatedly stolen and punctured by bullets. An inch-thick bulletproof sign was erected at the site in October 2019.
The Illinois location is the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, where Emmett’s funeral was held in September 1955.
In a statement emailed to the AP, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin praised Mamie Till-Mobley’s courage in letting the nation and the world witness the scourge of racial hatred. The monument, he said, helps “make sure that Emmett Till’s story is not forgotten.”
Till National Monument will join dozens of federally recognized landmarks, buildings and other sites in the Deep South, north and west representing historical events and tragedies from the civil rights movement. For example, in Atlanta, sites representing the life and legacy of Pastor Martin Luther King Jr., including his hometown and Ebenezer Baptist Church, are all part of the National Park Service.
Designation often requires public and private organizations to collaborate on developing interpretation centers at each site so that anyone who visits can make sense of the site. Hiring park rangers is supported through a partnership with the National Park Service, the official nonprofit organization of the park service, and the National Parks Conservation Association.
The park service increasingly includes sites that “are part of the arc of justice in this country that both tell where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come, and frankly, how far we have to go,” said Will Shafroth, president and chief executive officer of the National Parks Foundation.
That’s where Leggs’ African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and the Till family’s work continue – raising enough money so that the sites are properly maintained and staffed needed to educate the public.
For Parker, who was just 16 years old when he witnessed Emmett’s abduction, the proclamation of Till’s memorial begins to unload the traumatic burden he has carried for most of his life. Tuesday is Emmett’s birthday in 1941. He should have been 82 years old.
Parker, 84, said of his cousin Emmett: “I’ve suffered all these years about the way they portrayed him — I still have to endure it.
“Truth should carry itself, but it has no wings. You have to put some wings on it.
Associated Press writers Joshua Boak and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.