The DOJ has reopened the Emmett Till investigation, the case of a black teenaged boy whose grisly murder in the 1950’s helped to spur the civil rights movement.
After being accused of sexually assaulting of a white woman, Till was abducted and then brutally beaten and shot. His mutilated body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River, weighted down by a cotton gin fan.
His mother opted for an open casket at his funeral to show the world just how truly horrific the murder was. The two white men charged, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were acquitted by an all-white jury despite mountains of evidence demonstrating their guilt. Till’s supposed victim recanted her story of assault decades after his death.
According to the Associated Press, the DOJ “told Congress in a report in March it is reinvestigating Till’s slaying in Money, Mississippi, in 1955 after receiving ‘new information.’ The case was closed in 2007 with authorities saying the suspects were dead; a state grand jury didn’t file any new charges.”
The federal report bearing Till’s name provided no indication as to what “new information” had been obtained. Deborah Watts, a cousin of Till, was unaware of the reopened investigation until being contacted by the AP on Wednesday.
One clue might be in the publication of “The Blood of Emmett Till” last year, which demonstrated that a key figure in the case acknowledged lying about events that preceded the murder.
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The book, by Timothy B. Tyson, quotes a white woman, Carolyn Donham, as acknowledging during a 2008 interview that she wasn’t truthful when she testified that Till grabbed her, whistled and made sexual advances at a store in 1955.
Two white men — Donham’s then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam — were charged with murder but acquitted in the slaying of Till, who had been staying with relatives in northern Mississippi at the time. The men later confessed to the crime in a magazine interview, but weren’t retried. Both are now dead.
Paula Johnson, co-director of an academic group that reviews unsolved civil rights slayings, said Tyson’s book most likely was the impetus. “We’re happy to have that be the case so that ultimately or finally someone can be held responsible for his murder,” said Johnson.
Till’s cousin Deborah Watts said it’s “wonderful” the investigation has been given new life, but would not discuss the details.
“None of us wants to do anything that jeopardizes any investigation or impedes, but we are also very interested in justice being done,” she said.