President Joe Biden on Tuesday established a new national monument honoring Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley.
“At a time where there are those who seek to ban books, bury history, we’re making it clear, crystal, crystal clear,” the president said. “We should know about our country. We should know everything: the good, the bad, the truth, who we are as a nation.”
The murder of Till, who was killed by white men while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955, became a key moment in the Civil Rights Movement, especially after an all-white jury acquitted the men. (They eventually admitted their guilt after they were no longer in legal jeopardy.)
The monument will be located at three sites, including the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Till’s hometown of Chicago. That was venue for the widely-attended open-casket funeral for Till following the lynching, over objections of authorities in Mississippi.
“The reason the world saw what Mrs. Till-Mobley saw was because another hero in this story, the Black press,” Biden said. “Jet magazine, the Chicago Defender and other newspapers and radio announcers who told the story were unflinching.”
The other two sites, both in Mississippi, include the location where Till’s body was discovered and the courthouse in Sumner, Miss., where the trial took place.
The White House has sought to contrast the president’s treatment of key moments in the history of the Civil Rights Movement with those of Republicans, including officials in Florida where GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is running for president.
“Today there are those in our nation who would prefer to erase or even rewrite the ugly parts of our past, those who attempt to teach that enslaved people benefitted from slavery,” Vice President Kamala Harris said, speaking ahead of the president at Tuesday’s event. “Those who insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, who try to divide our nation with unnecessary debates, let us not be seduced into believing that somehow we will be better if we forget.”
“It comes at an important moment let’s not forget what we have seen these past several months — as we’ve witnessed extreme officials in Florida and across the country lie about American history,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “The most recent example: shamefully — shamefully promoting a lie that enslaved people actually benefited from slavery.”
DeSantis on Friday said he was not involved in crafting Florida’s educational standards regarding the teaching of history but seemed to double down on the idea that some slaves may have benefitted from their enslavement.
“I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into, into doing things later in life,” DeSantis told reporters. The comments drew rebukes from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Before Biden signed the proclamation creating the national monument, a White House official had said there would be roughly 60 guests for Tuesday’s event, which coincided with what would have been Till’s 82nd birthday. The gust list included family members and civil rights leaders, as well as lawmakers and senior Biden administration officials.