By D. Kevin McNeir
On July 25, 2023 – what would have been the 82nd birthday of Emmett Till – President Joe Biden established a new national monument that will honor a mother and her son – two figures at the center of one of the darkest and most tragic periods in civil rights history.
The monuments will span three sites across two states, each dedicated to a different part of the tragedy experienced by Emmett Till, the Black teenager abducted and murdered in 1955, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who was determined to make sure her son’s story and sacrifice were not forgotten.
Biden established the monument during a ceremony at the White House, which was also attended by several of Till’s relatives including the Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., a cousin who was there the night two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, abducted Emmett from his great-uncle Moses Wright’s home in Money, Mississippi. The men later beat, tortured and murdered the teenager before throwing his body into the Tallahatchie River.
One of the three sites of the monument includes Roberts Temple Church of God in Chicago, where Till’s funeral took place in September of 1955. Thousands attended the open-casket funeral – a decision Till-Mobley made in defiance of Mississippi officials. The public viewing, along with photos later published with Till-Mobley’s permission in Jet magazine, resulted in nationwide outrage over what had happened to Emmett Till.
The second site, Graball Landing, represents the location in Mississippi where Till’s body was thought to be recovered which sits at the confluence of the Tallahatchie River and the Black Bayou. Since April 2008, the site has become the focus of national controversy as the Emmett Till Memorial Commission’s attempts to commemorate the landing have been met by repeated vandalism. In 2019, a bulletproof sign at the site replaced those repeatedly vandalized by gunfire.
“If we are to grow as a society, we have to process past pain, past wounds that have taken place in this country and Emmett Till represents some of those wounds,” Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Mississippi, told a New York Times reporter.
The final piece of the monument will be located at the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse, the site in Mississippi where an all-white, all-male jury acquitted Bryant and Milam of the murder. They later admitted to committing his murder.
The establishment of the monument comes about a year after Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act on March 29, 2022, establishing lynching as a federal hate crime.