The U.S. Department of Justice is reopening the murder case of Emmett Till 63 years after the 14-year-old African American teen was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. Federal officials announced Thursday that it launched an investigation into the case based on “new information” that it received about Till’s 1955 kidnapping, torture, and murder.
News that the DOJ was reopening Till’s case was first reported by the Associated Press after the Justice Department sent a report to Congress in March under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016, a bill authorized by President Barack Obama that grants feds with the ability to investigate unsolved civil rights murders before 1970.
While details about the new developments have not been disclosed, new revelations about Till’s death were published in the 2017 book The Blood of Emmett Till by historian Timothy B. Tyson.
Till was a native of Chicago visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, when he was accused of making sexual advances toward Carolyn Donham, 21, at a grocery store. Her then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged with killing Till but were acquitted by an all-white jury. Bryant and Milam later admitted to a reporter the next year that they beat and shot the teen before dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River. They were not retried due to double jeopardy laws.
Donham, who was known as Carolyn Bryant at the time, also admitted that she fabricated the story about Till in The Blood of Emmett Till. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” the book quotes her as saying. She currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and will turn 84 this month.
Rep. Bobby L. Rush, a Democratic congressman who urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reopen the case last year, released a statement Thursday applauding the announcement.
I am glad to see the federal government following through on this request. This case is not only critically important for the role it played in sparking the Civil Rights movement, but so that Emmett and his family receive the justice that is owed to them. It is vital that everyone — both victims and perpetrators — knows that heinous crimes of this nature will never go unpunished.
He added, Even today, the crime that he was a victim of, lynching, is still not illegal under federal law.
Although justice was never served, Till’s vicious killing was a pivotal catalyst in the launch of the civil rights movement. Till’s cousin told USA TODAY that her family is “extremely pleased” the DOJ has reopened the investigation into his death. “We want the process to work and we want justice to prevail for Emmett. This cannot just be forgotten.”