President Joe Biden, Dr. Marvel Parker, and Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. head to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Marvel Parker)

President Joe Biden, Dr. Marvel Parker, and Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. head to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Marvel Parker)

Biden orders Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument

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President Joe Biden hands the pen used to sign the proclamation to Dr. Marvel Parker as Emmett Till’s cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., looks on. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Marvel Parker)

By Carol McGowan

On July 25, on what would have been Emmett Till’s 82nd birthday, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation establishing the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument in Mississippi and Illinois.

Three sites are included in the national monument: Graball Landing near Glendora, Miss., Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago, and the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Miss.

Graball Landing was where Emmett’s body was recovered, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ was where his funeral was held, and the Tallahatchie County Courthouse was where the trial was held, and his killers were acquitted.

All three sites are now part of the National Park Service.

In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till left Chicago to visit family in the Mississippi Delta, where he was abducted, tortured and lynched on August 28.

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The Summit site of Emmett Till’s childhood home was decorated with balloons on what would have been his 82nd birthday. (Photo by Carol McGowan)

Emmett’s murder shocked the conscience of the nation and illuminated the impact of racial violence – but only after his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, bravely held an open casket funeral for her son at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago.

The subsequent trial and acquittal of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant for Emmett’s murder, held at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Miss., further demonstrated the injustice of the time.

“It’s been my life’s work to tell the truth of what happened to Emmett,” said Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., cousin and last living witness of Emmett Till’s kidnapping. “This national monument designation makes certain that Emmett Till’s life and legacy, along with his mother Mamie Till-Mobley’s social action and impact, will live on and be used to inspire others to create a more just and equitable society. We thank President Biden for codifying the national monument and are heartened to know these places will foster empathy, understanding and healing for years to come.”

A White House press release said the proclamation directs the National Park Service to develop a plan in consultation with local communities, organizations, and the public to support the interpretation and preservation of other key sites in Mississippi and Illinois that help tell the story of Emmett and Mamie Till. This may include the Glendora Cotton Gin, Mound Bayou, the Tutwiler Funeral Home, and the Emmett Till Boyhood Home in Summit.

Summit is home to two historic sites as part of the Till Story. There’s a marker where Emmett’s boyhood home once stood, and there is a recently dedicated bronze statue of Mamie Till-Mobley at Argo Community High School where Mamie was one of its first black graduates.

Wheeler Parker and his wife, Village of Summit Trustee, Dr. Marvel Parker, were invited to the signing ceremony in Washington, D.C. last week.

Dr. Parker said it was an honor for her and her husband to be there.

The Parkers were guests in the Oval Office on Tuesday, and talked with the president.

They then walked over to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where the signing would take place.

Vice President Kamala Harris introduced Wheeler Parker, and, in an unprecedented event, he was asked to, and had the honor of introducing the president.

After the signing, President Biden handed the pen he used to Dr. Parker.  That pen will be donated to the Smithsonian as part of the Emmett Till exhibit.

Dr. Parker said it all was a very moving experience.

“When we got the call from the White House on Sunday, and my husband was asked to introduce the president on Tuesday, it was surreal,” she said.

The Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute will be stewards of the Roberts Temple National Monument.

Marvel Parker is Executive Director of the institute and has helped lead the effort to restore and interpret the history of Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.

“As Director of the Preserve Roberts Temple Initiative, I want to thank President Biden, Elder Cleven Wardlow, Bishop Edwin Walker, the Roberts Family and our partners,” she said. “This designation is the culmination of our extensive collaborative work to make this historical landmark a part of The Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley legacy.”

“After 15 years of hard work, we have finally achieved a designation that we believe is pivotal to our nation’s story,” said Patrick Weems, executive director, Emmett Till Interpretive Center. “The lynching of Emmett Till and the courage of Mamie Till Mobley served as a springboard to the modern Civil Rights Movement, and preserving this history in perpetuity will serve as a continual act of restorative justice. We extend our deepest gratitude to the Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors, and Congressman Bennie Thompson for championing this vision of reconciliation, which has now become a national monument.”

A consortium of local and national partners has worked together to advocate for the preservation and documentation of sites connected to the Till family legacy.  

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has provided technical preservation support and $750,000 in critical grant funding to aid in the rescue of sites important to the Till legacy.  

“Imbued in these now permanently protected buildings and landscapes are the unspeakable crimes of racial violence, and the tireless strength of Mamie Till Mobley who harnessed her grief in pursuit of social justice,” said Brent Leggs, executive director, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Through historic preservation, this multiracial coalition of partners will continue its work to uplift this new national monument and secure the resources and investment needed to ensure the site’s future.” 

The Action Fund and its signature partner, Mellon Foundation, will together invest an additional $5 million to provide specialized preservation expertise to ensure that Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ is restored for continued use by the congregation and interpreted for local, national, and global audiences.  

“As younger generations of Americans learn them for the first time, Emmet Till’s and Mamie Till Mobley’s stories remain central to our effort to make a more racially just United States,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation. “We at Mellon are steadfast in our support of this national monument and the opportunities it provides for reparative learning, public engagement, and the crucial collective work we must undertake to end race-based hatred and violence in our country.”

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Vice President Kamala Harris introduces Reverend Wheeler Parker at ceremonies last week in Washington, D.C. Parker had the honor of introducing President Joe Biden. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Marvel Parker)

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