Interior Secretary Deb Haaland toured civil rights sites in Mississippi on Tuesday, seeing the crumbling rural store that is part of the story of the 1955 lynching of black teenager Emmett Till and touring the house where the chief of the NAACP state, Medgar Evers, was assassinated in 1963.
Haaland traveled with White House Environmental Quality Council Chair Brenda Mallory and Democratic U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson. The sites are in the Thompson District, which encompasses the Delta Plains and much of Mississippi’s capital, Jackson.
Standing in front of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument in Jackson, Haaland said the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior are looking to expand opportunities for people to learn about the civil rights movement.
“Today I was so honored to learn, to listen, to hear from people who have worked in the field for decades,” said Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico who is the first Native American to head a Cabinet department.
Haaland said she heard from young people who hadn’t heard of Till while at school, but had heard of him since then.
Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, was visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta when he was abducted, tortured and killed after witnesses said he whistled a white woman working at a grocery store in the small town of Money. No one was ever convicted of Till’s murder, and the Justice Department announced in December that it was ending its investigation into his lynching.
The murder galvanized the civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted that a coffin be opened and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalized body.
“It is important that we educate our children because they deserve to know the history of our country,” Haaland said.
Evers House became a national monument in December 2020. Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers, who still lives, served as chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors in the mid-1990s. She donated the house family to Tougaloo College in 1993 and the college transferred ownership to the National Park Service.
Medgar Evers served as the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi, beginning in 1954. He led voter registration drives and boycotts to press for racial equality. He also investigated lynchings, beatings, and other violence suffered by black residents at the hands of white segregationists. He was shot in the driveway of the family home while Myrlie and their three children were inside.
“This site is about courage and bravery in the face of evil,” Mallory said.
Haaland said the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service have no immediate plans to oversee other civil rights sites.
“Of course, if additional sites are supported by the National Park Service — whether it’s national monuments, national parks, under that umbrella — then of course we have an obligation,” Haaland said.
Thompson chimed in and said, “What she said was if Congress gives her money, she will.”
The congressman said he would like the National Park Service to have a Civil Rights Trail to document and preserve sites across the South.
The Evers’ daughter, Reena Evers-Everette, said she wanted people to remember the “warriors and foot soldiers” of the civil rights movement.
“Let’s not forget the pain and disrespect that was created during the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s – and now,” she said.
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