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Why A National Park?

“Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.”

 

— The late Rep. John Lewis, Member, United States House of Representatives, 5th District Georgia

 

“I am so thankful for the bravery and courage Mamie demonstrated when she shared her only child with the world. The news of Emmett’s death caused many people to participate in the cry for justice and equal rights, including myself. The respect I have felt for her since 1955 will always live with me. She was blessed among women to carry the mantle with grace and dignity.”

 

— Rosa Parks, Civil Rights Activist

 

In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year old youth from Chicago, took a train south to visit family in the Mississippi Delta during his summer vacation. Emmett’s murder on August 28, 1955, shocked the conscience of the nation. His murder might have gone unnoticed by the general public–just like the lynchings of so many other black men and women throughout the South–if not for the bravery of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. Mamie decided to “let the world see what I have seen” by holding an open-casket memorial service for her son upon his body’s return to Chicago. At the memorial service, which was attended by more than 100,000 mourners, Mamie allowed Jet magazine to photograph her son’s mutilated body. As the exhibit on Emmett Till at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. states, “The photo of Till with his mother earlier that year alongside Jet’s photo of his mutilated corpse horrified the nation and became a catalyst for the burgeoning civil rights movement.” It was no coincidence that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other organizers of the March on Washington chose August 28, 1963, the eighth anniversary of Emmett’s murder, as the date of the March.

 

The sites associated with Emmett’s murder, his open casket funeral, and the subsequent “trial of the century” in which two of Emmett’s murderers were acquitted illustrate how racial tensions in Mississippi spurred a nationwide movement for civil rights–including inspiring the Emmett Till generation. These sites are critical resources for scholarly study of these historic events and of their connection to a national movement. The interpretation of these sites is vital to continue educating Americans about this pivotal moment in our history.

A National Park dedicated to the story of Emmett Till’s murder and the bravery of his mother Mamie Till-Mobley would bring an important piece of American history–and a key turning point in the struggle for African American civil rights–under the protection of the National Park System. A park dedicated Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley would join other important national parks profiling the bravery of African American women, such as the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park and the Daisy Bates House in Little Rock.