The Justice Department has reopened its investigation into the murder of Emmett Till, a case that is widely considered one of the catalysts that launched the Civil Rights Movement.
AP News reports that the government’s decision to restart the investigation into the 1955 killing was triggered by “new information.” The case had previously been shelved in 2007. The reason given at the time was that all of the suspects had passed away. Details of the “new information” that they’ve received have not been revealed.
When he was 14, Till was accused of whistling and making sexual advances at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in Mississippi during a time when Jim Crow laws were in full effect. Bryant was a shopkeeper’s wife and Till was a customer at their store. After the alleged incident, he was found dead. As History.com notes, his body was horrendously disfigured. His murderers dug out one of his eyes and beat him before shooting him in the head. They then tied his body to a 75-pound cotton-gin fan and dumped him into the river.
Till’s mother had the body sent back to his native Chicago and held an open-casket funeral for her son. A gruesome photo of the body in the coffin was published by mainstream media outlets. Carolyn Bryant’s husband and brother went on trial for the murder but the jury reached a “not guilty” verdict claiming that the body had not been adequately identified.
Fast forward to 2017 and Carolyn Bryant, now Donham is interviewed by author/historian Tim Tyson for his book, The Blood of Emmett Till. In the book, the 84-year-old woman who accused Till confessed to lying during the trial about what he did to her.
The New York Times review of the book published an excerpt of what she said during the interview, namely that he did not “grab her” by the waist or “whisper obscenities” to her.
“You tell these stories for so long that they seem true but that part is not true. Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”
This could be the “new information” that led to the reopening of the case. But we’ll probably have to wait until the findings of the investigations are published. The Justice Department did not respond to AP’s request for comment.
AP notes that Till’s relatives lobbied the attorney general to reopen the case after the book was published. Deborah Watts, one of his cousins and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said that she thought it was “wonderful” that the case was being opened and that she was happy about the prospect of justice finally being done.