Justice Department reopens Emmett Till murder case that galvanized US civil rights movement | News | DW | 12.07.2018
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Justice Department reopens Emmett Till murder case that galvanized US civil rights movement

The 1955 murder of teenager Emmett Till was a crucial impetus for the US civil rights movement. His killers went free, but authorities are looking into the case once more after new information came to light.

The US Justice Department announced on Thursday that it was reopening the 1955 murder case of Emmett Till. The 14-year-old Till, who was black, was lynched by a group of white men in Mississippi after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in a shop.

The decision by his mother, Mamie Till, to hold an open casket funeral, and the subsequent photographs of his mutilated body in Jet magazine helped galvanize the budding US civil rights movement.

According to Justice Department officials, new information has come to light that has prompted them to revisit the case. The information reportedly came from author Timothy B. Tyson, who in his  2017 book The Blood of Emmett Till, wrote that' Carolyn Donham – the woman Till was accused of flirting with – admitted to lying to investigators when she claimed Till grabbed her and made other sexual advances.

Till's cousin Wheeler Parker, who was with the young man the day he was killed in 1955, has also reportedly spoken to the FBI about the case. Parker is now 79.

Watch video 12:04

Lynching in the US: Shadows from the past

Tortured and killed

Emmett Till, a Chicago native, was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, when he walked into a shop owned by Carolyn Donham, then Carolyn Bryant. What happened next is disputed: Some claimed that Till wolf whistled at Donham, while others said he was just whistling for fun.

Donham, however, would later testify that Till took hold of her wrist and asked for a date. That night, her then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother John Milam kidnapped Till from his relatives' house before torturing and killing him.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the murder charges against them by an all-white jury. The pair later admitted to the slaying, but no further charges were brought. The case was closed in 2007, under the assumption that all the guilty parties had died.

Whether any new charges stem from the renewed investigation remains to be seen. The statute of limitations has passed for Donham to be charged with lying to police. Murder and conspiracy charges can still be brought, however.

es/sms (AP, AFP)

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