The new monument will consist of three protected sites: one in Illinois, where Till was from, and two in Mississippi, where white men kidnapped, tortured, mutilated and lynched 14-year-old Till for allegedly flirting with one of their wives while he was visiting family in the state in 1955.
“When I was preparing these remarks, I, quite frankly ― and my colleagues understand this ― I found myself trying to temper my anger as I was writing,” Biden opened his remarks. “I’m not joking. I can’t fathom what it must have been like.”
The monument designation fell on what would have been Till’s 82nd birthday. His mother, the late Mamie Till-Mobley, was also honored for her civil rights activism following her son’s murder, including her insistence that he have an open-casket funeral so that people could see how his attackers had disfigured him.
“All of us who have lost children in other ways know how hard it is even to close the casket or keep it open ― what a debate it is,” said Biden, who lost his 1-year-old daughter Naomi in a car accident in 1972 and his son Beau, 46, to cancer in 2015.
Till’s cousin Rev. Wheeler Parker, who was with him on his trip to Mississippi, also spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony, saying: “Back then in the darkness, I could never imagine a moment like this, standing in the light of wisdom, grace and deliverance.”
Biden also denounced the growing Republican effort to restrict education on the civil rights movement and Black history during his speech on Tuesday.
“At a time when there are those who seek to ban books, bury history, we’re making it clear ― crystal, crystal clear: While darkness and denialism can hide much, they erase nothing,” Biden said.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Florida has banned the new Advanced Placement course on Black history and, more recently, approved K-12 curriculum stating that slaves benefited from their forced, unpaid labor. There’s also a growing conservative movement to ban books with racial themes from school and public libraries.
Biden continued: “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know; we have to learn what we should know. We should know about our country. We should know everything: the good, the bad, the truth, who we are as a nation.”