President Biden on Tuesday will establish a national monument honoring Emmett Till, the Black teenager who was abducted and killed by white supremacists in 1955, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who helped galvanize the civil rights movement by bravely displaying her child’s brutalized body for the world to see.
The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument will span three protected sites in Illinois, where Emmett was born 82 years ago, and in Mississippi, where he was killed at the age of 14 after being accused of whistling at a white woman.
The president’s decision to dedicate a monument to two figures whose story underscores the legacy of racism in America comes in the midst of a divisive political battle over how to teach Black history in schools.
Last week, Gov. 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 teaching Black history.
The standards say that middle schoolers should be instructed that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The depiction drew widespread rebuke, including from Vice President Kamala Harris.
“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us and we will not stand for it,” Ms. Harris said last week during a speech in Indianapolis.
Mr. DeSantis, who has made fighting a “woke” agenda in education a signature part of his election platform, defended the standards, which were created to comply with a law he signed known as the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.” He accused Democrats of “indoctrinating students.”
Since Mr. Biden took office, more than 40 states have introduced or passed laws or taken other measures to restrict how issues of race and racism are taught, according to Education Week. The outlet has been tracking the legislation against so-called “critical race theory,” a term that has been adopted by conservative activists as a catchall for teachings about race.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, referenced Florida’s new standards on Monday, saying the Till monument was arriving “at an important moment.”
“Let’s not forget what we’ve seen these past several months, as we’ve witnessed extreme officials in Florida and across the country lie about American history — the most recent example shamefully, shamefully promoting a lie that enslaved people actually benefited from slavery,” she said. “It’s inaccurate, insulting. It’s hurtful and prevents an honest account of our nation’s history.”
The Biden administration has invoked Emmett’s death and Ms. Till-Mobley’s activism before. During a White House screening of the movie “Till” in February, Mr. Biden told the crowd that he chose the movie because “history matters.”
“To remember history is to shine a light on the good, the bad, the truth and who we are as a nation,” he said at the screening. “And our history shows that while darkness and denialism hide very much, they erase nothing. They can’t erase the past, and they shouldn’t.”
He also said that 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 posthumously award Emmett and Ms. Till-Mobley the Congressional Gold Medal, the body’s highest civilian honor.
The monument’s locations 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 it was only identifiable by a ring that his mother had given him before he left to visit relatives in Mississippi.
Another is the church in Chicago where Emmett’s funeral was held, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ. Ms. Till-Mobley insisted on an open coffin, saying that “the whole nation had to bear witness to this.”
More than 100,000 people poured into the church over days of public viewings.
The third site is the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Miss., where an all-white jury acquitted Emmett’s killers.
Anna Betts in New York and Zolan Kanno-Youngs in Washington contributed reporting.