Home Secretary Tours Mississippi Civil Rights Sites | Mississippi News

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Home Secretary Deb Haaland toured civil rights sites in Mississippi on Tuesday, saw the crumbling rural store that is part of the story of the 1955 lynching of black teenager Emmett Till and toured the home where the state NAACP Leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in 1963.

Haaland traveled with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory and Democratic US Rep. Bennie Thompson. The sites are located in Thompson County, which includes the Delta Plains and much of the Mississippi capital of Jackson.

Standing in front of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument in Jackson, Haaland said the National Park Service and Department of the Interior are trying to expand opportunities for people to learn more about the civil rights movement.

“Today I was so honored to learn, to listen, and to hear from people who have been working in this field on the ground for decades,” said Haaland, a former New Mexico congresswoman who is the first Native American woman to lead a cabinet department.

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Haaland said she’s heard from young people who didn’t learn about Till during their school days, but have learned about him since.

Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, was visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta when he was kidnapped, tortured and killed after witnesses said he snapped at a white woman who worked at a grocery store in the small town of Money. No one has ever been convicted of Till’s murder, and the Justice Department announced in December that it was dropping its investigation into his lynching.

The murder fueled the civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted on an open coffin and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalized body.

“It’s important that we educate our children because they deserve to know the history of our country,” Haaland said.

The Evers House became a national monument in December 2020. Medgar Evers’ surviving widow, Myrlie Evers, served as chair of the NAACP’s national board in the mid-1990s. In 1993, she donated the family home to Tougaloo College, and the college transferred ownership to the National Park Service.

Medgar Evers was the Mississippi NAACP’s first field secretary, beginning in 1954. He led voter registration campaigns and boycotts to push for racial equality. He also investigated lynchings, beatings and other acts of violence to which black residents were subjected by white segregationists. He was shot in the driveway of the family home while Myrlie and her three children were inside.

“This page tells of courage and bravery in the face of evil,” Mallory said.

Haaland said the Home Office and the National Park Service have no immediate plans to assume oversight of other civil rights sites.

“If additional sites are placed under the National Park Service — whether they’re national monuments, national parks or under that umbrella — then obviously we have an obligation,” Haaland said.

Thompson stepped in, saying, “What she said is if Congress gives her the money, she will.”

The congressman said he would like the National Park Service to have a civil rights trail to document and preserve sites throughout the South.

The Evers’ daughter, Reena Evers-Everette, said she wants people to remember the “warriors and foot soldiers” of the civil rights movement.

“Let’s not forget the pain and lack of respect that arose in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s — and now,” she said.

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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