Today, on what would have been Emmett Till’s 82nd birthday, President Biden will sign a proclamation establishing the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument in Mississippi and Illinois. The new national monument will tell the story of the events surrounding Emmett Till’s murder, their significance in the civil rights movement and American history, and the broader story of Black oppression, survival, and bravery in America.
The new national monument will be anchored at three historic sites in Chicago, Illinois; Sumner, Mississippi; and just outside of Glendora, Mississippi. These sites are central to Emmett Till’s racially motivated murder in 1955 and the defining events that followed – including the courageous activism and leadership of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. The new national monument will also encourage and enable partnerships between the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and local communities and organizations to help conserve and interpret a broader network of historic sites that help tell the story of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley.
The nationwide coverage of the horrific lynching of Emmett Till, as well as Mamie Till-Mobley’s courageous efforts to honor her son’s story through education and activism, elevated the broader reality of the injustices and inequality that Black people experienced during the Jim Crow era and helped catalyze the civil rights movement. Mere months following Emmett Till’s murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery city bus. She later cited Emmett Till as the reason she would not acquiesce.
Today’s designation builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to advance civil rights and racial justice, including through the President’s signing of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act that codified lynching as a federal hate crime. The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument is President Biden’s fourth new national monument, and reflects the Administration’s commitment to protecting places that help tell a more complete story of our nation’s history.
Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument
The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument will be managed by the National Park Service, and comprises 5.70 acres across three separate historic sites in Illinois and Mississippi. Through the historical objects protected at these sites, the monument tells the story of Emmett Till’s too-short life and murder, the unjust acquittal of his murderers, and the activism of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who courageously brought the world’s attention to the brutal injustices and racism of the time.
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. Graball Landing is believed to be the site where Emmett Till’s body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River. In 2008, the community installed a memorial sign that has been removed or vandalized multiple times since it was first erected. The most recent version of the sign – dedicated in October 2019 – is over an inch thick and bulletproof.
Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Bronzeville, a historically Black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, is the second monument site. The church is where on September 3, 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley held an open-casket funeral service for her son in defiance of directives from Mississippi authorities that Emmett Till be buried quickly in Mississippi. Over the course of several days, as many as 125,000 people attended the visitation and funeral services to mourn Emmett Till and bear witness.
The third monument site is the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi where the trial of Emmett Till’s murderers began on September 19, 1955 in a segregated courtroom. An all-white jury wrongfully acquitted Emmett Till’s two killers after just over an hour of deliberation. Both killers later admitted their crimes to a leading magazine in an interview for which they were paid. No one was ever held legally accountable for Emmett Till’s death.
In addition to designating the three sites as a new national monument, today’s proclamation directs the National Park Service to develop a plan in consultation with local communities, organizations, and the public to support the interpretation and preservation of other key sites in Mississippi and Illinois that help tell the story of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley. This may include the Glendora Cotton Gin (currently known as the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center), Mound Bayou, the Tutwiler Funeral Home, and the Emmett Till Boyhood Home.
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. In the lead up to the designation, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory visited the sites and met with community members to learn about their vision on how to best educate the public about not only the brutal lynching of Emmett Till, but how the events surrounding his death helped to dismantle Jim Crow and served as a turning point in the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
Background on Antiquities Act Designations
President Theodore Roosevelt first used the Antiquities Act in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. Since then, 18 presidents of both parties have used this authority to protect unique natural and historic features in America, including the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Stonewall National Monument, and the César E. Chávez National Monument.
The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument is President Biden’s fourth new monument designation, following the creation of the Castner Range National Monument in Texas and Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada this spring, and Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado last fall.