2 tragic moments in Black history that deserve recognition on public lands

people led on a tour inside museum. they are looking at an old bed

USDA Tom Vilsack, US Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Congressman Bennie Thompson, MS CD2, are led on a tour of the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center ETHIC by Glendora Mayor Johnny B Thomas in Glendora, MS

USDA Media by Lance Cheung

Emmett Till’s murder, Springfield riot warrant official commemoration

The history and future of our country can be read like a book across the landscape. When public lands are protected as national monuments, parks, historic sites or recreation areas, it signals that those places matter and stand testament to a story that is worth remembering and retelling.  

More: What is a “national monument”? 

But not all places worthy of federal protections end up being recognized. The National Park Service and other land management agencies collectively oversee hundreds of sites totaling millions of acres of public lands  but less than one quarter of national monuments and national parks tell stories of Black, Brown, Indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ communities.  

To correct that imbalance, President Biden has a huge opportunity to uplift and honor stories that have helped shaped the very foundation of our country and the civil rights movement. Specifically, there are two historical events he should consider commemorating, each of which have been championed by advocates for many years. 

The Springfield Race Riot of 1908 (Illinois)

people gathering behind an excavation site.

1908 race riot archaeological site in Springfield, Illinois.

June Stricker/Hanson Professional Services Inc./Flickr

In August of 1908, a race war broke out in the capital of Illinois after a white mob was thwarted in its attempts to attack two Black men awaiting trial at the local jail. Once the two men were spirited out of town to a different jail, the white mob turned its anger on the Black community of Springfield, destroying and looting Black-run businesses and homes while thousands of white residents looked on. Ultimately, two Black men were lynched, six people died overall, more than 40 Black families were displaced and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages were done.  


This racist event, among other violent attacks, catalyzed the formation of the civil rights organization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. 

Currently, the National Park Service (NPS) is conducting a study that will help determine if the area becomes a national monument. If it meets the criteria for being protected, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will decide whether to recommend it for designation as a national monument.  


The murder of Emmett Till (Mississippi)

Two-floor brick structure with a clock tower, and an American Flag

The Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, the site of Emmett Till’s murder trial.

Alan Spears/NPCA

Editor's note: On July 25th of 2023 President Biden designated the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument. The monument spans three sites in Mississippi and Illinois. Read more about this new national monument here.  

In August 1955 in Money, Mississippi, a young Black teenager named Emmett Till was brutally murdered by two white men who accused him of flirting with a white woman. His body was found in a river and brought back to his hometown of Chicago at the request of his mother, who had a public, open-casket funeral so that the world could see the brutality her only son suffered. A month later, an all-white jury found the killers not guilty.   

In 2017, the woman who accused Till of flirting with her allegedly recanted her testimony, and in 2022 a grand jury in Mississippi declined to indict her for her role in the crime. Decades after Till’s death, in March 2022, President Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law, finally making lynching a federal hate crime

Efforts to honor Till have gained momentum in recent months. Advocates and communities across the country are calling on the National Park Service to designate Till’s funeral site and murder trial site as park sites. In February, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a new national monument at Chicago's Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ. That is the site where Till’s body was displayed in an open casket after he was lynched. Under the bill the site would be preserved and managed by the National Park Service.  

The NPS would have three years to create a management plan for the new monument. Back in October 2022 Secretary Deb Haaland visited that church for a community meeting on the potential for federal protections.  

These stories are painful but remain relevant. The places where they happened deserve to be recognized with federal protection, whether as national parks or national monuments, so that they will never be forgotten. 

Now is the time for President Biden and his administration to act and heed the call of thousands of activists who have been dedicated to making sure public lands are inclusive and representative of our nation.