• Justice Dept. reopens Emmett Till murder case that helped inspire civil rights movement

    By: USA Today

    Updated:

    The federal government has reopened the murder case of Emmett Till, a black teen whose gruesome murder in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of grabbing a white woman shocked the nation and helped prompt the civil rights movement.

    The woman's then-husband and another man were charged with murder but acquitted later that year.

    The Justice Department said in a statement Thursday that it was reopening the investigation "after receiving new information" it did not detail. The investigation, revealed to Congress as a one-word notation on a chart in a February report, was first reported by the Associated Press.

    "Because it is an active investigation, the department cannot provide any additional information at this time," the department said Thursday.

    Till was 14 years old when Carolyn Donham, a 21-year-old shopkeeper in the town of Money, said the youth grabbed and whistled at her. A few days later, on Aug. 28, Till was abducted from his home. The battered body of Till, nicknamed "Bobo," was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River.

    Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, requested her son's casket be left open for the funeral so the public could see how badly he had been beaten. Tens of thousands of African-Americans paid their respects.

    "In memory of #EmmettTill and thousands of other black men, women & children lynched, we must finally pass anti-lynching law," the Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted Thursday.

    More: Emmett Till eyewitness dies; saw 1955 abduction of his cousin

    Four months after the widely publicized trial, Look magazine published an account of the killing they said they obtained from Donham's then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his brother, J.W. Milam. In the article, the men admit beating Till and tossing him in the river, weighed down with a 74-pound cotton gin fan.

    Milam told the magazine that the men wanted to beat and scare Till, not kill him. But when he could not be frightened, they decided to kill him, Milam said.

    "What else could we do?" Milam told the magazine. "When a (expletive) gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him."

    Miliam died in 1980, Bryant in 1994. The federal government reopened the case in 2004 but closed it in 2007 with no further charges being filed.

    The Justice Department's February report was required under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016. The bill reauthorized investigation and prosecution of civil rights violations that occurred before 1970, expanded powers to include crime in the 1970s, required that families be kept abreast of developments and required an annual report on the investigations to Congress.

    Till's death made news last year with publication of "The Blood of Emmett Till." The book, written by Timothy B. Tyson, quotes Donham admitting in 2008 that she wasn't telling the truth when she made the claims. Donham, now 84, lives in North Carolina.

    Simeon Wright, who said he was an eyewitness to Till's abduction, died in September. He said he was present when Till wolf-whistled at Bryant's wife at the store.

    Wright, in his book "Simeon's Story," says that days later, on Aug. 28, 1955, Wright and Till were sleeping when Milam and Bryant entered with guns. He said his mother begged the men not to take Till, even offering them money.

    "They had come for Bobo," Wright wrote. "No begging, pleading or payment was going to stop them."

    The men took Till away, and Wright never saw him again.

    "I must have stayed in the bed for hours, petrified," Wright wrote.

    Contributing: Jerry Mitchell, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

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