US President Joe Biden’s establishment of a national monument honouring Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, marks the fulfilment of a promise Till’s relatives made after his death 68 years ago.
The Black teenager from Chicago, whose abduction, torture and killing in Mississippi in 1955 helped propel the United States civil rights movement, will be seen as more than just a cause of that movement, said Till’s cousin, the Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr.
“We are resolute that it now becomes an American story and not just a civil rights story,” Parker told The Associated Press news agency before Biden signed the national monument proclamation at the White House on Tuesday.
With the stroke of Biden’s pen, the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, located across three sites in two states, became federally protected.
But Till’s family members, along with a national organisation seeking to preserve Black cultural heritage sites, said their work protecting the Till legacy continues. They hope to raise money to restore the sites and to develop educational programming to support their inclusion in the National Park System.
Altogether, the national monument will include 2.3 hectares (5.7 acres) of land and two historic buildings.
The Mississippi sites are Graball Landing, the spot where Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River just outside of Glendora, Mississippi, and the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, where his killers were tried.
There is already the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, which received philanthropic funding to expand programming and pay staff who interface with visitors.
At Graball Landing, a memorial sign installed in 2008 had been repeatedly stolen and was riddled with bullets. An inch-thick bulletproof sign was erected at the site in October 2019.
The Illinois site is Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, where Till’s funeral was held in September 1955.
For Parker, who was 16 years old when he witnessed Emmett’s abduction, the Till monument proclamation begins to lift the weight of trauma that he has carried for most of his life. Tuesday is the anniversary of Till’s birth in 1941. He would have been 82.
“I’ve been suffering for all these years of how they’ve portrayed him. I still deal with that,” Parker, 84, said of his cousin. “The truth should carry itself, but it doesn’t have wings. You have to put some wings on it.”