President Biden on Tuesday established a national monument honoring Emmett Till, the black teenager whose 1955 murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement, coming to terms with America’s legacy of racism even as some Republicans seek to limit how black history is taught.
The monument honors Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who insisted on an open casket at her son’s funeral, saying « the whole nation had to witness it. »
Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument includes three protected sites, in Illinois, where Emmett was born 82 years ago, and in Mississippi, where he was killed at age 14 after being accused of booing at a white woman.
In a White House ceremony attended by Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the Till family, Mr. Biden called for Republican efforts to ban the books and « bury history. »
“Darkness and denial can hide a lot,” Biden said. But “they don’t cancel anything. We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know.
The president’s decision to dedicate the monument to Till comes amid a contentious political battle over how to teach black history in schools.
Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, came under fire after education officials in his state introduced new standards for black history teaching.
The standards say that middle school students should be educated that « slaves developed skills that, in some cases, could be applied to their personal advantage. » The portrayal drew widespread reproaches, including from Ms. Harris.
« Let’s not be led to believe that somehow we’ll be better off if we forget, » she said at Tuesday’s ceremony,
Mr. DeSantis, who has made fighting an « awakened » education agenda a signature of his campaign platform, defended the standards, which were created to comply with a law he signed known as « Stop WOKE act.” He accused Democrats of « indoctrinating students. »
Since Biden took office, more than 40 states have introduced or passed laws or taken other steps to limit the way issues of race and racism are taught, according to Education Week. The outlet has been monitoring legislation against so-called « critical race theory, » a term it has been adopted by conservative activists as a collector of teachings on race.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, referred to Florida’s new standards on Monday, saying the Till monument will come « at an important time. »
“Let’s not forget what we’ve seen in recent months, when we’ve witnessed extremist officials in Florida and across the country lie about American history — the most recent example outrageously, outrageously promoting a lie that enslaved people actually benefited from slavery,” he said. “It’s inaccurate, offensive. It is offensive and prevents an honest account of our nation’s history. »
The Biden administration has already called for Emmett’s death and Ms. Till-Mobley’s activism. During a White House screening of the film « Till » in February, Mr. Biden told the crowd he chose the film because « story matters. »
« To remember history is to illuminate good, evil, truth and who we are as a nation, » he said at the screening.
He also said signing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which made lynching a federal hate crime, in March 2022 was « one of the great honors of my career. » Mr. Biden also signed a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would have posthumously awarded Emmett and Ms. Till-Mobley the Congressional Gold Medal, the body’s highest civilian honor.
The locations of the monument are meant to honor the Till family.
One site is Graball Landing in Tallahatchie County, Miss., where Emmett’s body is believed to have been pulled from the Tallahatchie River. His body was so disfigured that he was identifiable only by a ring his mother had given him before he left to visit relatives in Mississippi.
Another is the Chicago church where Emmett’s funeral was held, the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.
More than 100,000 people flocked to the church during public viewing days.
The third site is the Tallahatchie County 2nd District Courthouse in Sumner, Miss., where an all-white jury acquitted Emmett’s killers.
Anna Betts contributed reporting from New York, e Zolan Kanno-Young from Washington.