Justice Department reopens investigation into 63-year-old murder of Emmett Till

Brenda Watkins
July 13, 2018

The U.S. government has reopened an investigation into the 1955 killing of black teenager Emmett Till in MS, saying it had discovered new information in the case, which helped spark the nation's civil rights movement.

The report issued in late March doesn't indicate what that information might be.

TYSON: I think that it's a cynical political charade and utter hypocrisy for the Justice Department of Jeff Beauregard Sessions and Donald Trump to feign caring about a black child murdered in 1955 when they're holding children of color in cages, when they can't find a moral distinction between the Nazis and those who demonstrate against them, when Jeff Sessions has spent his whole career supporting restrictions on voting rights. The government hasn't specified if any new charges will be added, or if the prosecution will bring a case to anyone involved. Till was just 14 years old visiting family in MS when a white woman said he had made crude sexual advances toward her.

Donham's then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged with murder but later acquitted in Till's slaying. You know, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has never really closed this case, and there's a 500-page report of the FBI's findings from 1955 certainly on - into the 1990s. The men later confessed in a magazine interview but weren't retried; both are now dead. The two white men who were put on trial for the murder were acquitted by an all-white jury, and the case was ultimately closed in 2007. The government has investigated 115 cases involving 128 victims under the "cold case" law named for Till, the report said. But Parker says the discussion likely occurred after the release of a book that raised questions about the Till case past year. Jackson's slaying was an impetus for the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march later that year. "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. His mutilated body was later found tied to a cotton gin with barbed wire in a river. His mother, Mamie Till, left her son's casket open for the funeral, to show people how insane racism had gotten in the south.

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Donham, then 21 and known as Carolyn Bryant, testified in 1955 as a prospective defense witness in the trial of Bryant and Milam. "Just what did he say when he grabbed your hand?" defense attorney Sidney Carlton asked, according to a trial transcript released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation a decade ago. "He said [he had] done something with white women before", she said.

After delivering her testimony, Judge Curtis Swango ruled that it was inadmissible. With jurors out of the courtroom, she said a "nigger man" she didn't know took her by the arm in the store.

According to History, author Tim Tyson - who wrote 2017's "The Blood of Emmett Till" - wrote that Carolyn Bryant later recanted her testimony, and said that young Emmett had never touched, harassed, or threatened her at all. Donham told Tyson that "nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him".

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