By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Recognizing the country’s painful racial history and honoring the legacy of Emmett Till, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation on Tuesday designating a national monument spanning two states to memorialize Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Bradley.
A distinguished audience included Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., President & CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), as well as several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Chair Steven Horsford, Minority Whip James Clyburn, and Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson.
The NNPA is the trade association that represents the Black Press of America.
Till, a 14-year-old Black teenager from Chicago, was tragically murdered in Money, Mississippi, on August 28, 1955, after being accused by a white woman of whistling at her.
His brutal killing became a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement when his mother, Mamie Till, chose to hold an open-casket funeral, and a photograph of her son’s disfigured body was published in Black media, bringing national attention to the horrors of racism and sparking outrage across the nation.
The Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, where Till’s funeral took place, Graball Landing in Mississippi, thought to be the site of his body’s discovery, and the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse, where an all-white jury found the white men responsible for his murder not guilty, make up the 5.7 acres of the newly designated national monument.
During the ceremony, Biden acknowledged the significant role played by the Black Press in shedding light on Till’s tragic story and the broader struggle for civil rights.
He applauded the bravery and unwavering dedication of publications like JET Magazine, the Chicago Defender, and other newspapers and radio announcers who fearlessly reported on the events surrounding Till’s murder, ensuring that the truth reached the American people.
“The reason the world saw what Mrs. Till-Mobley saw was because of another hero in this story: the Black Press,” Biden remarked, receiving applause from the audience.
He emphasized the importance of shining a light of truth on the painful aspects of the nation’s past, acknowledging that darkness and denialism cannot erase history.
Vice President Kamala Harris, also present at the event, echoed Biden’s sentiments and emphasized the critical role that the story of Till and the courage of Mamie Till played in fueling the civil rights movement.
She emphasized her connection to the cause because, while serving in the United States Senate, she sponsored the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which President Biden later signed into law and made lynching a federal crime.
Harris emphasized that embracing the complete history of the United States, even its painful chapters, is essential to pursuing justice and equality.
She thanked the many leaders at the ceremony, acknowledging their contributions to progress in the civil rights fight.
“Our history as a nation is born of tragedy and triumph, of struggle and success. That is who we are,” Harris asserted.
“And as people who love our country, as patriots, we know that we must remember and teach our full history, even when it is painful — especially when it is painful.
“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; those who insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, who try to divide our nation with unnecessary debates.”
She concluded, “Let us not be seduced into believing that somehow, we will be better if we forget. We will be better if we remember. We will be stronger if we remember.”
The Biden administration has taken strong action by designating the site as a national monument to ensure that future generations will remember and preserve the history of racial injustice.
The move comes at a time when some states are facing debates over how to teach their historical past in public schools, with Biden and Harris advocating for an inclusive and accurate education that confronts the darker chapters of American history.
The ceremony took place on what would have been Emmett Till’s 82nd birthday, emphasizing the occasion’s significance.
“There’s really critical work ahead to continue the fight for racial justice and equality for all Americans,” Biden insisted.
“And my administration is committed to leading a path forward. And I know the members of Congress here are even more committed than that.”