Every time I hear the story or think about the story of Emmett Till, it breaks my heart and pains my soul.
And now almost 63 years later the federal government has quietly revived its investigation into the murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American boy whose abduction and killing remain among the starkest and most searing examples of racial violence in the history of the South.
Till was born and raised in 1955 in Chicago, Illinois, and while visiting relatives in Mississippi, Till, then 14, was lynched and brutally murdered because he had allegedly whistled at a white woman.
Somehow, even after Carolyn Bryant Donham (the alleged victim of Till’s vicious “whistling”), recanted much of her original story, and the men who killed Till admitted they did it once they were acquitted for the crime — describing Till as a confident young man who told them, even as they beat him, “I’m as good as you are”
The Justice Department has renewed inquiry into this case, which it described in a report submitted to Congress in late March, was “based upon the discovery of new information.” It is not clear, though, whether the government will be able to bring charges against anyone: Most episodes investigated in recent years as part of a federal effort to re-examine racially motivated murders have not led to prosecutions, or even referrals to state authorities.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Thursday, but it appeared that the government had chosen to devote new attention to the case after a central witness, Carolyn Bryant Donham, recanted parts of her account of what transpired in August 1955. Two men who confessed to killing Emmett, only after they had been acquitted by an all-white jury in Mississippi, are now dead.
Yet the Till case, which staggered the nation after the boy’s open-coffin funeral and the publication of photographs of his mutilated body, has never faded away, especially in a region still grappling with the horrors of its past. Even in recent years, historical markers about the case have been vandalized.
For more than six decades, Emmett’s death has stood as a symbol of Southern racism. The boy was visiting family in Money, Miss., deep in the Mississippi Delta, from Chicago when he went to a store owned by Ms. Donham and her then husband, who was one of the men who ultimately confessed to Emmett’s murder. Emmett was kidnapped and killed days later, he had been beaten, shot and had a barbed wire wrapped around his neck tethered to a cotton gin fan and then tossed into the Tallahatchie River.
This case was never concluded which sends one clear message: 63 years and the American justice system continues to prove it doesn’t care for innocent black lives.