President Joe Biden has hosted a screening of the movie Till about the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, who was killed after a white woman said the black 14-year-old had made improper advances towards her.
“History matters,” Mr Biden said in brief remarks before the lights in the East Room came down on invited guests, including members of Till’s family.
He noted that while some might want to ignore the nation’s history, “only with truth comes healing and justice”.
Mr Biden said he has come to learn that “hate never goes away” and that the only thing that stops it is for the entire country to condemn it.
Among the members of Till’s family was a cousin who is suing in federal court to force a Mississippi county sheriff to serve a recently discovered 1955 arrest warrant on the nearly 90-year-old woman who complained about the young man.
Mr Biden did not comment on the lawsuit but thanked members of Till’s family for “never, ever, ever giving up” in the pursuit of justice.
Others attendees included Danielle Deadwyler, who stars as Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley; Jalyn Hall, who plays Emmett; Whoopi Goldberg, who had the supporting role of Emmett’s maternal grandmother; and Chinonye Chukwu, the Nigerian American filmmaker who directed Till.
Also in the audience, where popcorn and sweets were passed around and a pack of tissues placed on each seat, were students, civil rights leaders, historians and families of victims of hate-fuelled violence.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said this week that it was important to the president to host the screening during Black History Month “to lift this movie up” and to make sure that Till’s story is not forgotten.
Hours before the screening, Mr Biden signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to conduct annual reviews aimed at increasing access by disadvantaged communities to federal programmes, services and activities.
Mr Biden also held a White House summit last year on violence inspired by hate.
“There’s still a lot more work to be done. The work is not done,” Ms Jean-Pierre said. “But the president is going to do everything that he can in his power at — in the federal government, in this White House, to make sure that we address issues like this.”
She declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Till’s cousin Priscilla Sterling and her lawyers said they planned to try to deliver copies of the lawsuit to the Justice Department on Friday.
Till family members, including Ms Sterling, said on Thursday at an appearance in Washington that they will appeal to the department to reopen the investigation into his death.
Lawyer Malik Shabazz said the investigation was unfairly narrow. “A movie is nice. Justice is much better,” he said.
Last June, a team doing research at the courthouse in Leflore County, Mississippi, found an unserved 1955 arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant, listed on that document as Mrs Roy Bryant.
Ms Sterling filed the lawsuit last week against Ricky Banks, the current Leflore County sheriff, seeking to compel Mr Banks to serve the warrant on Bryant, who now goes by Carolyn Bryant Donham after remarrying.