Emmett Till's Relatives: Reopen the Case

Federal officials closed the investigation last year
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 6, 2021 4:30 PM CST
Updated Mar 11, 2022 1:38 PM CST
Emmett Till's Family Is Told the Investigation Has Ended
Emmett Louis Till was 14 when he was slain in Mississippi.   (AP Photo, File)

(Newser) Update: Relatives of Emmett Till joined with supporters Friday in asking federal authorities to reverse their decision to close an investigation of his 1955 lynching and instead prosecute a white woman at the center of the case from the very beginning. Relatives said they would present Mississippi authorities with a petition signed by about 250,000 people seeking a renewed probe of the killing, per the AP. Our original story from December follows:

The Justice Department told relatives of Emmett Till on Monday that it is ending its investigation into the 1955 lynching of the Black teenager from Chicago who was abducted, tortured, and killed after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman in Mississippi. A person familiar with the matter informed the AP about the closure of the investigation and the meeting with Till's family.

The department reopened an investigation after a 2017 book quoted a key figure, Carolyn Bryant Donham, as saying she lied when she claimed that 14-year-old Till grabbed her, whistled, and made sexual advances while she was working in a store in the small community of Money. Relatives have publicly denied that Donham recanted her allegations about Till. The killing galvanized the civil rights movement after Till's mother insisted on an open casket and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalized body.

Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, were tried on murder charges about a month after Till was killed. An an all-white Mississippi jury acquitted them but months later, they confessed in a paid interview. The Justice Department in 2004 opened an investigation into whether charges could be brought against anyone still living. The department said the statute of limitations had run out on any potential federal crime, but the FBI worked with state investigators to determine if state charges could be brought. In February 2007, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone. Bryant and Milam are now both dead. Donham is in her 80s and has been living in North Carolina.

(Read more Emmett Till stories.)

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