Criminal Justice

Citing new information, feds reopen probe of Emmett Till's murder

  • Print

Emmett Till/Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Justice Department told Congress in a March report that it reopened the probe into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black youth beaten and shot in Mississippi after a white shopkeeper accused him of sexual advances.

The report said the case was being reopened because of new information, according to USA Today, the New York Times and the Associated Press, which broke the news.

The Justice Department did not reveal what kind of new information spurred the probe.

Till’s accuser, Carolyn Donham, said in a 2008 interview that she wasn’t being entirely truthful when she said Till whistled at her, grabbed her, asked her for a date, and mentioned something he had done “with white women before.” Donham’s interview was part of a book by Timothy Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till, which was published last year.

“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Donham, who turns 84 this month, told Tyson.

Another witness, Simeon Wright, said in his own book, Simeon’s Story, that Till had whistled at Donham in her store. Wright said he and Till were sleeping when Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, entered their room with guns and abducted Till.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted in the murder. They later told Look magazine that they beat Till and threw him in the river using a cotton gin fan to weigh him down. Both men are now dead. The federal case had been closed in 2007, and a report said the statute of limitations had closed on any potential federal crime.

Till’s mother asked for his casket be open for the funeral so the media could see how badly he was beaten. The case helped launch the civil rights movement.

See also:

The Marshall Project: “Lynching cold cases are re-examined as law students compile archive”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.