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National monument honoring Emmett Till to consist of 3 sites in Illinois and Mississippi

Emmett Till to be honored with monument
Emmett Till and his mother to be honored with national monument 07:22

President Biden signed a proclamation Tuesday designating locations associated with Emmett Till as a national monument on what would have been Till's 82nd birthday, recognizing the impact of his killing on the civil rights movement. 

Graball Landing in Mississippi, the Tallahatchie River location where the brutally beaten body of 14-year-old Emmett Till was dumped and discovered in 1955, will be one of three sites designated as a national monument in his honor, CBS News has learned.  

The White House is designating the river site, the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse and Chicago's Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ as part of a national monument, recognizing both the history of racial violence and the need for legal justice. Till's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, is also being honored with the monument. 

"It isn't for our nation to remain stuck in a painful past. It really is to challenge our nation to say, 'we can do better,'" said Brent Leggs, who serves as the executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Leggs' team helped secure the designation and hopes it will draw attention to approximately 5,000 additional Black historic sites across the United States that require approximately half a billion dollars for preservation. 

The memory of Emmett Till remains imprinted on the banks of the Tallahatchie River. 

"This landscape holds memory of one of the most painful moments in American history," said Leggs. The site serves as a grim reminder of the violent and threatening environment faced by Black youth in American society during that era. 

Nearly 70 years later, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till's cousin, still remembers the fateful summer of 1955 when they traveled from Chicago to visit relatives in the Mississippi Delta. On their trip, the cousins visited Bryant's Grocery Store, owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant. Till was accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a White woman, resulting in fatal consequences. 

"That's a death sentence," Parker said. 

Days later, armed with guns, Roy Bryant and his brother J.W. Milam found the family at their home.

"I heard 'em talkin', 'You got two boys here from Chicago?'" Parker said. "I said, 'God, we're getting ready to die.' Shaking like a leaf on the tree. I closed my eyes to be shot but they didn't shoot me. They came to take Emmett. That's what they did." 

Till was abducted from his relative's home, tortured and shot before his lifeless body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River. 

The images of Till's beaten and bruised body appeared in Black-owned newspapers and magazines across the country, thanks to the efforts of the Black press, which played a crucial role in exposing racial disparities. 

Mamie Till-Mobley, Till's mother, held an open casket funeral at Roberts Temple in Chicago, where nearly 50,000 people paid their respects. The public viewing of Till's disfigured face is considered a catalyst for the civil rights movement. 

"She allowed the world to see what she saw when she opened that box that they shipped from in Mississippi: the face of racial hatred and racism in America," said Marvel Parker, Wheeler Parker's wife.

The Parkers are focused on restoring the 100-year-old church building, which requires approximately $20 million for full restoration. 

At the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, restored to its 1955 appearance, Emmett Till Interpretive Center executive director Patrick Weems facilitates tours. Visitors are reminded of the battle against racial violence and legal injustice that took place there. 

It was at that courthouse that an all-White male jury acquitted Bryant and Milam for Till's murder. Months later, the brothers confessed their crime to a magazine, but were never held accountable. 

"There was a battle here. There's a battle of the souls of this nation about what was gonna win out. Are they gonna say segregation is right and what the murderers did was OK? Or is justice going to prevail? And that day — we all lost," Weems said. 

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