By Ashleigh Fields,
AFRO Assistant Editor,
Emmett Till’s and Mamie Till Mobley’s family members, legislators and civil rights advocates gathered in the Indian Treaty Room on July 25 to watch as President Biden signed a national proclamation to erect three national monuments in Till’s honor.
“I spent my early years as a sharecropper and was focused upon filling up a 9-foot sack, focused upon my quota, not making history,” said Emmett’s cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. at the proclamation signing. He added, “From the outhouse to the White House; from a time when we lived in fear to a time when the 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.”
“It has been quite a journey for me from the darkness to the light,” Parker reflected. “When I sat with my family on the night of terror, when Emmett Till, our beloved Bobo, was taken from us, taken to be tortured and brutally murdered — back then, when I was overwhelmed with terror and fear of certain death in the darkness of a thousand midnights, in a pitch-black house on what some have called Dark Fear Road.”
On August 28, 1955, in the dead of night, 14-year-old Emmett Till was snatched from his bed to be relentlessly beaten and tormented, then dumped in the Tallahatchie River. His crime: an accusation that he had romantically propositioned a White woman. Three days after he was killed, Emmett’s corpse was lugged out of the waterway where his great-uncle, Moses Wright, identified the mutilated body through an initialed ring on the child’s hand gifted to him by his father, who was executed by the U.S. Army 10 years prior.
Emmett’s face was thoroughly disfigured, his eye was gouged and a deep indentation was present on his skull. The sight was so gruesome that it was deemed inappropriate for publication in White news outlets across the country. The boy’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley held an open casket funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Bronzeville, Ill., a site that will now become a national monument after Biden’s proclamation. The honor was made official on July 25, what would have been Emmett’s 82nd birthday.
“The Roberts Temple Church of God
[in Christ is
] of both extraordinary and incredibly heartbreaking historical importance to Chicago, our state and to this country,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). “It’s past time we recognize how national monuments can not only teach us about our history—but provoke us to build a more just future.”
Earlier this year Biden hosted a White House screening for the movie “Till,” which highlights Mamie Till Mobley’s journey from the American South to the Midwest in pursuit of justice for her son.
“My God, all of us who have lost children in other ways, how hard it is even to close the casket or keep it open or to — what a debate it is,” Biden empathized as a parent who has lost two of his four children. “But to see the child that had been maimed, and the country and the world saw — 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.”
The White House announced that there will be three separate plots across 5.70 acres of land will be dedicated to Emmett and Mamie Till Mobley for unveiling the piercing affliction caused by unjust lynchings in the deep South.
“The death of Emmett Till and the resolve of Mamie Till-Mobley is the preamble to the Civil Rights Movement so recognizing this part of American history and respectfully interpreted in perpetuity, is among our highest hopes,” said Patrick Weems, the executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. The organization is housed in a building that is across from the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, where Emmett’s murderers were acquitted by an all-White, all male jury. No one was ever held legally accountable for Emmett Till’s death. However, millions will now have the opportunity to learn of the harsh effects of racism which ended his too short life.
“Imbued in these now permanently protected buildings and landscapes are the unspeakable crimes of racial violence, and the tireless strength of Mamie Till-Mobley who harnessed her grief in pursuit of social justice,” said Brent Leggs, executive director, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
Graball Landing where Emmett’s body was discovered outside of Glendora, Miss. and Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Miss. will also house memorials in partnership with the Mellon Foundation and the National Park Foundation.
“As younger generations of Americans learn them for the first time, Emmet Till and Mamie Till Mobley’s stories remain central to our effort to make a more racially just United States,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation. “We at Mellon are steadfast in our support of this national monument and the opportunities it provides for reparative learning, public engagement, and the crucial collective work we must undertake to end race-based hatred and violence in our country.”
Last Congress, senators pushed for passage of the long-overdue Emmett Till Antilynching Act. In March 2022, the legislation unanimously passed the Senate and was signed into law, making lynching a federal hate crime.
“The story of Emmett Till is emblematic of one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history when lynchings were a frequent occurrence. As her son’s body was returned to Chicago, Mamie Till-Mobley courageously chose to hold an open-casket wake at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ so others could witness the cruel reality of racism in the United States,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). “After continuously advocating for lynching to be designated as a hate crime and for the preservation of Roberts Temple, I am grateful that President Biden has moved to establish a national monument at the church to help ensure that Emmett Till’s story is not forgotten.”