President Joe Biden shakes hands with Rev. Wheeler Parker as Marvel Parker holds a signing pen at right, after Biden signed a proclamation to establish the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, in the Indian Treaty Room on the White House campus, Tuesday, July 25, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The life of Emmett Till is to be remembered with the signing of a proclamation for three monuments by President Joe Biden – two in Mississippi and one in Illinois.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation to establish the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument. The monuments will be located in Illinois and Mississippi.
Today would have been Emmett’s 82nd birthday.
Emmett Till was the victim of a brutal lynching in Mississippi in the summer of 1955. He was kidnapped from a relative’s home and beaten to death after allegations that he whistled at a white woman.
Now, three monuments will mark major sites in the story of Till. One monument will be located in Chicago, Illinois at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ where Till’s funeral was held. Another marker will be located at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi where the court proceedings took place after his murder. A third monument will be at the Graball Landing river site, where it is presumed Till’s body was discovered.
Steve Benjamin, Senior Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, told the Magnolia Tribune that this is an opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the struggles of African Americans in the height of the Jim Crow era.
“This honors the work of the Till family and their community members who spent their lives to make sure this story is told and that these locations are preserved,” said Benjamin. “It is that much more important that we give an honest account of our nation’s history, if we don’t we don’t teach people. We don’t teach our children that we can overcome and you can change things.”
Vice President Kamala Harris welcomed guests to the signing of the proclamation which included President Joe Biden, members of Congress, and the Till family.
“We gather to remember an act of astonishing violence and hate and to honor the courage of those who called upon our nation to look with open eyes at that horror and to act,” said Vice President Harris.
She went on to add that the history of the United States is one of tragedy as well as triumph; struggle along with success. The Vice President said it is by understanding and learning from the past that Americans can build a better future.
Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr. followed the Vice President. Cousins with Emmett, he is the last surviving witness to the abduction and was only 16 at the time. Reverend Parker said he never imagined a moment like this.
“From the outhouse to the White House; from a time when we lived in fear to a time when President and Vice President gave us this great hope, kept their promise by delivering – this is what America means to me: promises made, promises kept,” said the Reverend.
When addressing the room, President Biden expressed his anger at Emmett’s story.
“But to see the child that had been maimed, and the country and the world saw, not just heard the story of Emmett Till and his mother, as a story of a family’s promise and loss in the nation’s reckoning with hate, violence, racism, overwhelming abuse of power, and brutality. It’s hard to fathom. Hard to fathom this even in war for me,” said President Biden.
He also echoed the Vice President’s comments that Americans should know the good and bad of the nation’s history. This will allow Americans to find healing, justice, repair and move forward, he said.
Two men were charged with Emmett’s murder in 1955 but were found “not guilty” after only 67 minutes of deliberation.
In April, Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman who accused Emmett of whistling at her died at the age of 88. In 2017, she recanted her testimony that he had grabbed, whistled, or made advances toward her.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said.
She went on to write a manuscript published by the Associated Press in 2022 regarding her perspective in what happened to Till.