There is more to Emmett Till’s story

The case of the brutal lynching of a 14-yr-old black boy that launched the Civil Rights movement has been reopened.

Emmett Till is shown lying on his bed.
Emmett Till is shown lying on his bed.

The Department of Justice has officially reopened the Emmett Till murder case investigation and is looking into unsolved racially motivated homicides that occurred before 1980.

The DOJ told Congress in a report in March that it relaunched the investigation into the brutal 1955 lynching after obtaining “new information.” Two sources familiar with the case told the Washington Post that the investigation was relaunched after new details emerged in the book The Blood of Emmett Till, by Timothy B. Tyson. Last January, Carolyn Donham, the white woman whose accusation against Till led to his gruesome death, admitted in the book that while she can’t recall the exact details of what occurred any longer, she was not honest in her initial account.

In August of 1955, Till, a black boy from Chicago who was just 14 at the time, was visiting family in Mississippi for the summer, when he walked into the corner store where Donham worked. Donham alleges he flirted with her, made sexual advances, grabbed her hand, and at one point wolf whistled. She told her husband and her husband’s half brother about the incident, which led to them and potentially others dragging Till from his bed in the middle of the night. The group beat him till he was unrecognizable, shot him in the head, tied a large gin mill fan to his neck with barbed wire, and threw him in the Tallahatchie River.

“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Donham has since said.

Till’s murder was so shocking to the public at large that it became the catalyst for the Civil Rights movement, kicking the fight into high gear. His mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, famously held a open casket viewing so the world could see what it had done to her baby.


Donham’s husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and her brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, were prosecuted for Till’s death. The all-white jury acquitted them after an hour of deliberations, though they later confessed to the killing to a journalist. Both died without being convicted.

Like Till’s murder, many others that fall into the same category as racially motivated, have gone largely unsolved. One major reason for homicides at or around that same time remaining unsolved, according to the DOJ report, is the non-existence of anti-lynching laws — something we still don’t have in 2018.

Last month, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tim Scott (R-SC) –three black senators — introduced an anti-lynching bill to Congress that would make lynching a federal hate crime, once and for all. Since 1882, it’s been recorded that there were over 4,000 people killed in this manner, and there have been over 200 anti-lynching bills put before Congress and none of them have been approved.

In April, the first ever lynching memorial was opened in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to the victims of white supremacy. Till’s casket can also be viewed at the National Museum for African American History in Washington, D.C.