A New National Monument Has Been Named, Protecting a Civil Rights Legacy

The new Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument is the latest in a series of national monuments recognizing the civil rights movement.

Emmett Till's statue in Mississippi, with one hand raised to his hat

A statue of Emmett Till that was erected in 2022 in Mississippi, near where he died.

Associated Press Photo

Three sites important to the story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, whose activism helped spur the civil rights movement, were given national monument status this week.

Named the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, the protected area includes one site in Chicago, where Till was born and buried, and two sites in Mississippi, where he was abducted, tortured, shot, and dumped into a river with a cotton-gin fan tied to his neck after being accused of whistling at a white woman working in a grocery store (a story the woman, Carolyn Bryant, later admitted making up).

During an event at the White House on July 25 to sign the proclamation, Biden noted that the national monument is an important way for the United States to acknowledge the “truth and full history of our nation.”

“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know. We have to learn what we should know,” Biden said, adding, “Today, on what would have been Emmett’s 82nd birthday, we add another chapter in the story of remembrance and healing.”

One of the national monument sites includes Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, where more than 100,000 people attended Till’s funeral, during which his mother famously demanded her son’s mutilated remains be shown in an open casket, saying, “The whole nation had to bear witness to this.”

The other two sites are Graball Landing in Mississippi, where Till’s badly beaten body was found (identified only by a silver ring his mother had given him), and the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse, in Mississippi, where an all-white jury acquitted Till’s murderers.

In a statement, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jefferies said the monument “places the life and legacy of Emmett Till among our nation’s most treasured memorials.”

National monuments, like national parks, are managed by the National Park Service and are often chosen to memorialize and remember sites that are important to U.S. history (others, for example include Mount Rushmore, Plymouth Rock, and the Liberty Bell). Altogether, the three sites of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument add nearly six acres of national park land to the United States. In the coming months and years, the National Park Service will work to develop interpretation centers at each of the three sites to help visitors understand their importance.

Currently, there’s an Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi, the town where the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse is, and a memorial sign near Graball Landing. Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago is still operating as a regular church and travelers are welcome to visit (though they should be sure to avoid disrupting services).

Unlike national parks, which require an act of Congress to be recognized, presidents can name national monuments unilaterally. There are more than 100 national monuments throughout the country, and this multi-state one is the fourth that has been named during Biden’s presidency (and likely one of many to come). He previously named Camp Hale National Monument in Colorado, Castner Range National Monument in Texas, and Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada.

Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, told the Associated Press that many of the most recent park service sites (and those in consideration) are “part of the arc of justice in this country, both telling where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come, and frankly, how far we have to still go.”

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR