Family of Emmett Till Urges Department of Justice to Reopen the Investigation of 1955 Lynching

The 1955 killing of the 14-year-old Chicago boy has gone nearly 70 years without anyone being convicted, but his family still wants to see someone held accountable.

The family of Emmett Till and their supporters are asking officials to reopen the investigation of the Black teenager’s 1955 lynching in Money, Mississippi.

Deborah Watts, a cousin of Till’s said during a news conference at the state capitol that time is running out for Carolyn Bryant Donham, 88, to be brought to justice for her involvement in the 14-year-old’s death.

“Time is not on our side,” said Watts, who lives in Minnesota and leads the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, according to the Associated Press. Although the case is nearly 68 years old, justice still has not been served as far as the family is concerned and they feel Donham should be charged with murder.
"For the state of Mississippi to actually acknowledge that a white woman would be charged in a crime” that she is responsible for,” another family member, Priscilla Sterling, told Mississippi Public Radio. “They would actually take action and really and truly be held accountable for what they have let slide through history for 67 years."

According to MPR, activists delivered a petition with more than 400,00 signatures to the office of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch. Along with calling for murder charges, the petition also demands an apology from the state and local law enforcement to the Till family

Donham originally accused Till of grabbing her and asking her for a date. Years later, she said the boy never touched her. But her accusation led to his being abducted, tortured and murdered by Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam. The boy’s body was weighted down and thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

Bryant and Milam were tried on murder charges, but were quickly acquitted by an all-white jury. Just months later, when protected against double jeopardy, the pair confessed to the crime in a paid interview with Look magazine.

The Justice Department reopened the investigation in July 2018 after Donham changed her account of what happened. The investigation included a talk with one of Till’s cousins, the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., who told the AP in an interview that he heard Till whistle at the woman, but the teen did nothing to warrant being killed.

The probe concluded in late 2021 with no new charges being issued.

RELATED: Emmett Till’s Family Reacts To News That DOJ Closing Murder Investigation After 66 Years

The Justice Department also found that Bryant and Milam were not alone in the kidnapping, torture and murder of Till. Estimates of the number of people involved range from from a half-dozen to more than 14.

The case is unlikely to be reopened, according to the AP for a number of reasons. The Justice Department said historian Timothy B. Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till, was unable to produce recordings or transcripts to substantiate his account of Donham allegedly admitting to lying about her encounter with the teen. In later FBI interviews for the investigation, she denied recanting her testimony.

“This is a tragic and horrible crime, but the FBI, which has far greater resources than our office, has investigated this matter twice and determined that there is nothing more to prosecute,” said Michelle Williams, Fitch’s chief of staff.

On March 8, Congress passed an anti-lynching bill named for Till. “Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy,” Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, a lead sponsor of the bill, wrote in a statement. “Unanimous Senate passage of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U.S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act."

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