By Karen Stokes
President Biden signed a proclamation on Tuesday, July 25, which marked the 82nd anniversary of Emmett Till’s birth. The proclamation will establish the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument in both Illinois and Mississippi.
The President will be introduced by Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., who serves as the pastor and district superintendent of the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ in Summit, Illinois. Notably, this church was built by Alma Carthan, Emmett Till’s grandmother.
“It has been quite a journey for me from the darkness to the light,” said Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. 80, of the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ in Summit, Ill., who spoke at the ceremony. Parker was 16 years old when Till, his cousin, was killed. He is the last surviving witness to Till’s abduction. Approximately 60 guests, including members of the Till family, civil rights leaders, and historic preservation advocates will attend the signing, along with Vice President Harris, senior Biden-Harris Administration officials and Members of Congress.
A new national monument will honor Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley, established at three pivotal locations: Chicago, Illinois; Sumner, Mississippi; and the outskirts of Glendora, Mississippi. These sites played a crucial role in the racially motivated murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and the consequential transformative events, led by the courageous activism of his mother, Mamie Till- Mobley.
Thousands mourned Emmett’s murder in 1955 at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Bronzeville, the historically Black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Till’s mutilated body was pulled from Graball Landing’s Tallahatchie River. Lastly, the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi is the site where his murderers were tried and acquitted by an all-white jury. These locations will forever remember the injustices enacted against Emmett Till as reminders of what we hope will never ensue again.
“I can’t fathom what it must have been like,” Biden said, noting he was 12 years old at the time of Till’s murder. “I know no matter how much time has passed, how many birthdays, how many events, how many anniversaries, it’s hard to relive this.”
While on a trip from his home in Chicago to visit family in the Mississippi Delta in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was accused of making inappropriate advances toward a white female grocery clerk. Emmett Till’s cousins and friends, who were present at the scene, disputed the claim. Four days after the alleged incident, he was pulled from his bed, kidnapped, and brutally murdered by at least two white men.
Three days following this abduction, on August 31, 1955, Emmett Till’s mutilated body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, Graball Landing, located just outside of Glendora, Mississippi, is one of the three sites preserved by the new national monument.
The nationwide attention drawn to the heinous lynching of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley’s unwavering efforts to honor her son’s legacy through education and activism shed light on the injustices and inequalities endured by Black individuals during the Jim Crow era. This pivotal moment in history played a catalytic role in igniting the civil rights movement.
Today’s designation honors the tireless efforts of Emmett Till’s family, community and civil rights leaders, and local, state, and federal elected officials to ensure that these sites are protected and that Emmett Till’s story continues to be told.
“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know. We have to learn what we should know,” the President said. “At a time when there are those who seek to ban books, bury history — we’re making it clear, crystal crystal clear.”
No one was ever held legally accountable for Emmett Till’s death.