National monument honoring Emmett Till and his mother will strike a blow for historical truth

Emmett Till, who would have turned 82 on Tuesday, and Mamie Till-Mobley changed the course of U.S. history. They deserve this national honor.

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Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003, stands before a portrait of her slain son, Emmett Till, in her Chicago home on July 28, 1995.

Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003, stands before a portrait of her slain son, Emmett Till, in her Chicago home on July 28, 1995.

Beth A. Keiser/AP

A historic Bronzeville church and two sites in Mississippi together will become a new national monument honoring Chicagoans Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley under a proclamation signed Tuesday by President Joe Biden — a move that is as apropos as it is timely.

Till’s murder at the hands of white men Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam in 1955, and his mother’s courageous decision to display her 14-year-old son’s mutilated body during his funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State St. — one of the three new national monument sites — shocked the nation and amplified the Black civil rights movement.

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Editorials

Emmett Till, who would have turned 82 on Tuesday, and Mamie Till-Mobley changed the course of U.S. history. They deserve this national honor, which is especially appropriate and timely at a time when an honest accounting of Black history in America is increasingly under assault.

Monument to ‘create a more just and equitable society’

In addition to Roberts Temple, the national monument will include the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi where Bryant and Milam won acquittal from an all-white jury; and the Tallahatchie River bank in Mississippi, where Till’s body was found.

In a Look magazine article after the trial, the men admitted they killed Till on Aug. 28, 1955, while the youth was in Mississippi visiting relatives.

The men kidnapped and beat Till, shot him in the head, tied the child to a 75-pound cotton gin fan and pushed him into the river — all for allegedly whistling at Bryant’s wife, Carolyn.

The push to create the monument has been a 15-year effort. Many of the Civil Rights Movement’s landmark moments are traceable to the outcry over the Till killing, from the advancement of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to the rise of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a statement, the Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., Till’s cousin and last living witness of his kidnapping said the designation “makes certain that Emmett Till’s life and legacy, along with his [mother’s] social action and impact, will live on and be used to inspire others to create a more just and equitable society.”

The three monument sites will be overseen by the National Park Service.

The real history of Black Americans has always been under assault, usually either by ongoing attempts to blot out their presence and achievements, or by downplaying the horrors they have suffered. Florida is the most recent, and blatant example, with its abhorrent and shockingly racist attempt to recast enslavement as beneficial to the enslaved.

There’s so much wrong with that perspective that we won’t even begin to detail a response here.

Creation of the Till monument will offer a clear rebuttal — and strike a necessary blow in favor of truth.

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