Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed legislation Monday renaming stretches of highways in honor of victims of two of the nation’s most notorious civil rights slayings.
Lawmakers say the highways are the first state-sponsored memorials to the victims.
A portion of U.S. 49 East in Tallahatchie County becomes the “Emmett Till Memorial Highway” in honor of the black 14-year-old who was beaten to death in 1955, supposedly for whistling at a white woman.
That case has recently been reopened by prosecutors.
A stretch of Mississippi 19 near Philadelphia, believed to be the site of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, was renamed the “Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Memorial Highway” for the three civil rights workers who were ambushed, beaten and shot by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964.
Nineteen men were indicted on federal civil rights charges in that case. Seven were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years.
Murder charges in the case were not brought until earlier this year when former Klansman, Edgar Ray Killen, one of the original suspects, was indicted. He is scheduled for trial this spring.
“This is history in the way of Mississippi trying to change her image,” said Democratic state Sen. David Jordan, who represents the district where Till was killed. “This is healthy for the state, and the state has got to start looking at it that way.”