President Joe Biden on Tuesday honored Emmett Till, the black teenager whose slaying in 1955 helped spark the civil rights movement, and his mother with a national memorial spanning two states and a call for Americans to learn the country’s full history.

Till, who was 14 and visiting from Chicago, was beaten, shot and mutilated in Money, Mississippi, on August 28, 1955, four days after a 21-year-old white woman accused him of whistling at her. His body was thrown into the river.

The violent slaying drew attention to civil rights in the US after his mother, Mamie Till-Bradley, held an open-casket funeral and a photograph of her son’s badly disfigured body appeared in black media.

The 5.7-acre, three-site national monument designation represents a powerful new effort by the president to commemorate the nation’s heritage. bloody racial history, although Republicans in some states are pushing the boundaries of how that past is taught.

“Darkness and denial can hide much but erase nothing,” Biden told guests in the ornate, marble-lined Indian Treaty Hall next to the White House before signing the statement. “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know.”

Tuesday marks the 82nd anniversary of Till’s birth in 1941. One of the memorials is his burial site, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, in Chicago.

Other selected locations are in Mississippi: Graball Landing, near where Till’s body is believed to have been found; and the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse, where two white men who later confessed to Till’s killing were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Signs erected at Graball Landing since 2008 commemorating Till’s killing have been repeatedly defaced by gunfire.

Now the site and others will be considered federal property and will receive about $180,000 a year from the National Park Service. Any future vandalism would be investigated by federal law enforcement rather than local police, according to Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi.

Other such landmarks include the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and inventor Thomas Edison’s laboratory.

“America is changing, America is making progress,” said the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., 84, Till’s cousin, who was with the boy the night he was abducted at gunpoint from a relative’s home in Mississippi.

“I’ve seen a lot of change over the years, and I try to tell young people that it’s happening, but it’s happening very slowly,” Parker said in a telephone interview as he traveled from Chicago to Washington to attend the ceremony as one of about 60 White House guests.

Biden will likely need strong support from black voters to secure a second term in the 2024 presidential election.

In February, he screened the lynching film “Till” at the White House. Last March, he signed into law a bipartisan bill named after Till that made lynching a federal hate crime for the first time.

The Republican field, led by former President Donald Trump, has made conservative views on race and other contentious issues of history part of its platform, including book ban and struggling with efforts to teach school children about the country’s past, which they consider ideologically bent or unpatriotic.

“There are those in our nation today who would prefer to erase or even rewrite the ugly parts of our past, those who try to teach that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at the event, in a subtle reference to Florida Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’ reported comments last week that some enslaved people had the advantage of learning a trade.

“This is a wonderful and enlightening moment to talk about the importance of this story as an American story that everyone can now share, especially at a time when people are trying to rewrite history,” said Christopher Benson, president of the nonprofit Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley Institute in Summit, Illinois.

“We now have a memorial that can’t be erased. It can’t be banned or censored, and we think that’s a very important thing.”

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