The National Park Foundation (NPF) and partners played an integral role in helping to establish Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, the new national park in Mississippi and Illinois that preserves the story and legacy of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley and a crucial chapter of American history and the civil rights movement. Since partnering to enable preservation of the site, NPF has continued to support the park’s development and its local partner’s growth in critical ways.
NPF is working in close partnership with the Emmett Till Interpretive Center (ETIC) – a Mississippi Delta-based nonprofit focused on public education and historic preservation – to help lay the groundwork for the future of the new national monument.
The park tells the story of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who in 1955 was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered while visiting his cousins in Mississippi, his body recovered from the Tallahatchie River days later. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, held an open-casket memorial for her son near their Chicago home. Her decision to show what happened to her son changed the course of the civil rights movement.
The park today is comprised of three sites: the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, where an all-white jury acquitted two white men of Till’s murder; Graball Landing, the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River; and the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, where Till’s memorial was held. NPF, with full support from the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project initiative and Fund II Foundation, enabled preservation of these sites through acquisition and donation to the park service and the first year of staffing to interpret the story of the courthouse.
After the park’s designation, NPF’s support has continued.
“Philanthropy and community partners are essential to the success of the new Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument,” said Ruth Hernandez Prescott, National Park Foundation Chief of Staff. “The Emmett Till Interpretive Center is deeply rooted in the local community and committed to preserving the history and elevating the story of Emmett Till. The National Park Foundation is honored to partner with ETIC to build its capacity and to increase and accelerate the organization’s ability to support the new park.”
Two significant projects are underway: a project to enable NPS to have full use of the historic courthouse in Sumner, and support for the transition of ETIC into a full-fledged philanthropic partner to the park with an eye toward long-term impact.
“We are deeply grateful for the National Park Foundation’s support and partnership,” said Patrick Weems, Executive Director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. “These grants enable us to educate and enrich the visitor experience for those who come to witness history in the Mississippi Delta and furthers our mission to transform this building from a site of tragedy into a space for healing.”
Preserving a Historic Courthouse
NPF is supporting ETIC on a large, multi-year project to transfer the historic Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse to NPS as part of the establishment of the national monument, with generous support from the Mellon Foundation. ETIC is managing the renovation of a building nearby for the site of a new county courthouse and supporting the county to relocate entirely out of the historic courthouse building so that the historic courthouse will be available for NPS to interpret the Emmett Till story.
Once the project is complete, the historic courthouse will be a full-time NPS site that’s fully accessible to the public, with its sole purpose to share Till’s story. Currently, the building is still being used for county functions, including some trials in the courtroom. After the county’s move, the first floor of the courthouse will be available to house NPS offices and interpretive programming for visitors.
Supporting the Transition of a Philanthropic Partner
In addition to project work at the courthouse, NPF is also supporting ETIC on its own organizational growth. A capacity building grant from NPF is helping the nonprofit develop a plan for the advocacy organization to transition into a “friends of” philanthropic partner to the newly designated park.
ETIC will examine best practices of other park partners that successfully transitioned following the establishment of national park units to inform a tactical plan that will aid its shift into a philanthropic partner that can best support the new national monument and help NPS preserve and share Emmett Till’s story and legacy for years to come.
The grant is supporting ETIC to hire a consultant for a tactical plan, address board recruitment needs, attend National Park Friends Alliance meetings that convene park partners, and provide opportunities for key staff members to visit other parks across the country and meet with successful friends groups to better understand how they support NPS and their local sites.
Ultimately, NPF is helping boost ETIC’s capacity as a catalyst for ongoing, sustainable growth, investment, and impact for the site and for the visitors who will learn Till’s story.
NPF’s multifaceted support of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument is part of its Fund II Civil Rights Historic Preservation program, which aims to help preserve and bolster the work of national park sites tied to civil rights history and stories. The partnership work with ETIC is part of NPF’s collective partnership work to elevate national park philanthropy nationwide.