Biden admonishes Republican attempts to ‘bury history’ as he creates Emmett Till national monument

President Joe Biden has signed a proclamation to establish a national monument recognising the killing of Emmett Till, whose lynching in 1955 magnified an era of racist violence and galvanized a civil rights movement.

The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument will span three sites in Illinois and Mississippi, where the 14-year-old Black child was tortured before his body was thrown into a river and recovered several days later.

The monument will also honour his mother Mamie Till-Mobley, who spent decades fighting injustice until her death in 2003.

“At a time when there are those who seek to ban books and bury history, we’re making it clear – crystal, crystal clear,” the president said in remarks from the White House on 25 July, what would have been Till’s 82nd birthday.

“Darkness and denial can hide much, but they erase nothing,” he added. “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know. We have to learn what we should know.”

His remarks follow White House rebuke of Republican-led attempts to restrict access to books and materials in classrooms and libraries, as well as widely derided recent guidelines from Florida education officials that minimize the history of chattel slavery and a racist massacre in the state.

President Joe Biden embraces Rev Wheeler Parker, Emmett Till’s cousin and one of the last people to see him alive in 1955 (REUTERS)
President Joe Biden embraces Rev Wheeler Parker, Emmett Till’s cousin and one of the last people to see him alive in 1955 (REUTERS)

Joining the president and Vice President Kamala Harris was Till’s cousin, 83-year-old Rev Wheeler Parker, who was 16 years old and one of the last people to see Till alive when Roy Bryant and JW Milam abducted Till.

“It’s been quite a journey for me from darkness to the light, when I sat with my family on the night of terror when Emmett was taken from us, taken to be tortured, brutally murdered,” he said.

“Back then I could never imagine a moment like this,” he added.

Mr Biden, who was 10 years old when Till was killed, revived his pledge to confront the nation’s past atrocities and its failures to live up to the promises affirmed in the US Constitution in an effort to improve upon them.

“Only with truth comes healing, justice, repair and another step forward towards a more perfect union,” he said. “Silence is complicity. I will not be silent nor will you be silent about it.”

The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument will include three federally protected sites spanning Illinois and Mississippi central to the family’s story.

One site includes Roberts Temple Church of God in Chicago’s South Side, where Till’s funeral was held. Another is Graball Landing along the Tallahatchie River, where Till’s body was discovered, and a final site includes the county courthouse where an all-white jury acquitted his killers who later confessed to their crimes.

Last year, the president signed a bill to make lynching a federal hate crime more than a century after such legislation was first introduced.

Despite more than 200 legislative attempts to codify anti-lynching rules, no measure prevailed. A federal hate crime statute was eventually signed into law in the 1990s.

In a White House ceremony to sign the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, the president condemned the “pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal.”

The proclamation signed by Mr Biden on 25 July also directs the National Park Service to develop plans with local communities and organizations to support other potential sites in Mississippi and Illinois that tell the story of the Till family.