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Biden honors Emmett Till and his mother with new national monument

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden signed a proclamation Tuesday to establish the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument. Till, the Black 14-year-old who was lynched in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

His murder highlighted the racism and brutality faced by Black people throughout the U.S.

“It’s hard to believe I was 12 years old and I just, you know, I know no matter how much time has passed, how many birthdays, how many events, how many anniversaries — It’s hard to relive this,” Biden said.

“Today on what would’ve been Emmett’s 82nd birthday, we add another chapter in the story of remembrance and healing,” Biden added.

Biden was introduced by Till’s best friend and younger cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr.

Parker was 16 when Till was lynched and is the last surviving witness to his abduction, according to the White House.

“When I was overwhelmed with terror and fear of death … I could never imagined the moment like this,” said Parker.

Parker was among other members of Till’s family as well as civil rights leaders, historic preservation advocates, and more in attendance at the proclamation signing.

This monument will also honor Till’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley, a renowned civil rights advocate. Till was laid to rest in an open casket at his funeral by his mother to demonstrate the horrors of his brutal murder in order to push forward the movement for equal rights for Black Americans.

“The new monument will protect places that tell the story of Emmett Till’s too-short life and racially-motivated 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, catalyzing the civil rights movement,” according to a White House official.

The monument will be composed of several sites related to Till’s life and murder, including the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago where Till’s funeral service was held.

Graball Landing in Mississippi, where it is believed that Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River, will be the second location.

The Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Mississippi, where Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury, will be the third.

“The designation reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s work to advance civil rights and commitment to protecting places that help tell a more complete story of our nation’s history,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday.

“As we talk about the civil rights movement, as we talked about Emmett Till’s story, this is American history, and it is the broader story of American — of Black oppression, their survival, and the bravery in America,” she said. “All of that is connected.”

In March 2022, Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act into law, making lynching a hate crime under federal law. Lynchings were used to terrorize the Black community in the U.S., predominantly in the South, from the 1880s to 1960s.

Biden’s most recent move comes amid legislative changes and restrictions on education and programs in schools related to race in conservative-led states across the country.

For example, Florida recently changed educational guidelines on Black history amid the enforcement of the “Stop WOKE Act,” which places restrictions on lessons or training on race in schools and the workplace.

One change made to state education standards encourages curriculum to include “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

At the Tuesday proclamation, Vice President Kamala Harris slammed such efforts.

“We must remember, and teach our full history, even when it is painful. Especially, when it is painful,” Harris said. “Today there are those in our nation’s would refer to erase or even rewrite the ugly parts of our past.”

Supporters of such educational restrictions say the legislation bars lessons that may make students feel “shame” or “guilt” based on race. Critics say the legislation could infringes upon the ability to teach nuanced lessons on racial history.

“We should know everything — the good, the bad, the truth, who we are as a nation. That’s what great nations do. And we are a great nation,” Biden said. “For only with truth comes healing, Justice, repair, and another step forward toward forming a more perfect union.”

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