WASHINGTON – The US Department of Justice told Emmett Till’s relatives on Monday it was ending its final investigation into the 1955 lynching of the black Chicago teenager who was kidnapped, tortured and killed after witnesses said he had whistled a white woman in Mississippi.
A person familiar with the matter informed the Associated Press of the closure of the investigation and of the meeting with Till’s family. The person was unable to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The department reopened an investigation after a 2017 book cited a key figure, Carolyn Bryant Donham, as saying she lied when she claimed that Till, 14, had grabbed her, hissed, and slapped her. sexual advances while working in a store in the small community of Argent. Relatives have publicly denied that Donham, who is 80, retracted his claims about Till.
The murder galvanized the civil rights movement after Till’s mother insisted that a coffin be opened, and Jet magazine published photos of her brutalized body.
Days after Till’s death, his body was removed from the Tallahatchie River, where it was dumped after being weighted down with a cotton fan.
Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam, were tried for murder about a month after Till’s murder, but an all-white Mississippi jury acquitted them. Months later, they confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine. Bryant was married to Donham in 1955.
The Justice Department opened an investigation into Till’s murder in 2004 after receiving inquiries about whether charges could be laid against anyone still alive. The department said the statute of limitations has run out for any potential federal crimes, but the FBI has been working with state investigators to determine if state charges can be laid. In February 2007, a Mississippi grand jury refused to indict anyone and the Justice Department announced it was closing the case.
Bryant and Milam weren’t brought to justice again, and they’re now both dead. Donham lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The FBI launched a Cold Case Initiative in 2006 to investigate racially motivated murders committed decades earlier. A federal law named after Till allows for a review of murders that had not been solved or prosecuted to the point of conviction.
The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act requires the Department of Justice to submit an annual report to Congress. No report was filed in 2020, but a report filed in June this year said the department was still investigating Till’s kidnapping and murder.
The FBI investigation included an interview with Rev. Wheeler Parker, who previously told the AP in an interview that he heard his cousin whistle the woman at a store in Money, Mississippi, but the teenager did had done nothing to justify being killed.