What others say: New investigation into Emmett Till’s murder looks to provide closure

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmett’s Chicago funeral represented an act of defiance as well as mourning, helping to ignite the modern civil rights movement. “Let the people see what I’ve seen,” she told the funeral director.

“I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till,” she said in a PBS documentary interview. Those words ring loudly amid news that the U.S. Department of Justice has reopened an investigation of the 1955 slaying.

Many of the horrific details of Till’s death, including the racist intent and identities of the killers, are known. The name Emmett Till remains a powerful byword of the African-American struggle for equality.

What’s missing is closure. And justice.

Emmett Till was 14 years old in the summer of 1955, living with his mother in a two-flat at 6427 S. St. Lawrence Ave., when he was put on a train to visit relatives near Money, Miss. The story told by a 21-year-old white woman was that Emmett propositioned and whistled at her at a corner store. Days later, Emmett was abducted. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River, weighted down by a cast iron cotton gin pulley. He’d been beaten savagely and shot in the head.

The case was a sensation. Photos in Jet magazine of Emmett’s mutilated body shocked America. Two white Mississippi men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, were acquitted of the murder — by an all-white, small-town Mississippi jury that deliberated for a little over an hour, including a Coke break. Rosa Parks said she had Emmett Till in mind in December 1955 when she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala.

A month later, Bryant, who was Donham’s husband, and Milam admitted their guilt to Look magazine.

The pair are dead, as is Emmett Till’s mother, but the woman from the corner store, Carolyn Donham, is alive. About a decade ago, the Justice Department and Mississippi prosecutors reinvestigated the murder; they declined to move forward. A year later, though, Donham talked to writer Timothy B. Tyson and said she hadn’t been truthful in her trial testimony. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she’s quoted as saying in Tyson’s recently published book, “The Blood of Emmett Till.”

Donham’s interview could be the reason for a renewed federal investigation, according to The Associated Press. (…) The Justice Department told Congress in a report in March that it is again looking into the killing because of “new information.” It’s interesting to note that the annual report to Congress on unsolved civil rights crimes is mandated by legislation named in recognition of Emmett Till.

His legacy endures. And now there is a new investigation. We hope that means the nation one day soon will know all the facts of what happened to Emmett Till.

— The Chicago Tribune, July 12, 2018

More in Opinion

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Time to disrupt our legislative process

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Fishing, energy move into spotlight

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Finding common ground on education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks to attendees at a town hall event on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Taking action for workers, supporting kids

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge works in the Alaska State Capitol building on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Bills move forward and public weighs in

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Alaska House Rep. Ben Carpenter, center, speaks to constituents at the Alaska State Capitol, in this undated photo. (Courtesy Office of Rep. Ben Carpenter)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Focusing on fiscal stability

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Alaska Council of School Administrators logo. (Photo provided)
Op-Ed: The K-12 Fiscal Cliff: Who is Responsible? Everyone!

Seven years is a very long time to go without a meaningful permanent state funding increase

Priya Helweg is the Deputy Regional Director and Executive Officer for the Office of the Regional Director (ORD), Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, Region 10. (Image via hhs.gov)
Opinion: Inflation Reduction Act makes prescription drugs less expensive and more accessible

The Medicare program, can, for the first time, negotiate a fair price for certain prescription drugs taken by millions of beneficiaries

Alaska House Rep. Ben Carpenter, center, speaks to constituents at the Alaska State Capitol, in this undated photo. (Courtesy Office of Rep. Ben Carpenter)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Looking toward strategic education reforms

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks to attendees at a town hall event on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Hearings for bills on the horizon

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge works in the Alaska State Capitol building on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Energy on the front burner

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

In this undated file photo the Trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station north of Fairbanks, Alaska is shown. (AP Photo / Al Grillo)
Opinion: The PROVE IT Act would affirm Alaska LNG makes global sense

The PROVE IT Act is U.S. Senate legislation to study the emissions intensity of goods produced in the U.S. with those produced in other countries