Em­mett Till case opened af­ter 63 years

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

NEW YORK: The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has qui­etly re­vived its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mur­der of Em­mett Till, the 14-year-old African-Amer­i­can boy whose ab­duc­tion and killing re­mains, al­most 63 years later, among the stark­est ex­am­ples of racial vi­o­lence in the Amer­i­can South.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment said its re­newed in­quiry, which it de­scribed in a report sub­mit­ted to Con­gress in late March, was “based upon the dis­cov­ery of new in­for­ma­tion”. It is not clear, though, whether the gov­ern­ment will be able to bring charges against any­one: Most episodes in­ves­ti­gated in re­cent years as part of a fed­eral ef­fort to re-ex­am­ine racially mo­ti­vated mur­ders have not led to pros­e­cu­tions, or even re­fer­rals to state au­thor­i­ties.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment de­clined to com­ment on Thurs­day but it ap­peared the gov­ern­ment had cho­sen to de­vote new at­ten­tion to the case af­ter a cen­tral wit­ness, Carolyn Bryant Don­ham, re­canted parts of her ac­count of what tran­spired in Au­gust 1955. Two men who con­fessed to killing Em­mett, only af­ter they had been ac­quit­ted by an all-white jury in Mis­sis­sippi, are dead.

Yet the Till case, which stag­gered the na­tion af­ter the boy’s open-cof­fin fu­neral and the pub­li­ca­tion of pho­to­graphs of his mu­ti­lated body, has never faded away, es­pe­cially in a re­gion still grap­pling with the hor­rors of its past. Even in re­cent years, his­tor­i­cal mark­ers about the case have been van­dalised.

“I don’t think this is some­thing the South is go­ing to for­get eas­ily,” said Joyce Chiles, a for­mer district at­tor­ney in Mis­sis­sippi who was in­volved in a mid-2000s re­view of the Till case that con­cluded with no new charges.

For more than six decades, Em­mett’s death has stood as a sym­bol of South­ern racism. The boy was vis­it­ing fam­ily in Money, Mis­sis­sippi, deep in the Mis­sis­sippi Delta, from Chicago when he went to a store owned by Ms Don­ham and her then­hus­band, who was one of the men who ul­ti­mately con­fessed to Em­mett’s mur­der. Em­mett was kid­napped and killed days later, his body teth­ered to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire and then cast into a river.

The case — grue­some and shock­ing — be­came a cat­a­lyst for the broader civil rights move­ment.

But Ms Don­ham’s de­scrip­tion of the events lead­ing to the at­tack has re­peat­edly shifted. One ac­count had the boy only in­sult­ing her ver­bally. In court, but with­out jurors present, she claimed that Em­mett had made phys­i­cal con­tact with her and spo­ken in crude, sex­ual lan­guage. She later told the FBI that Em­mett had touched her hand.

And when she spoke to re­searcher Ti­mothy B Tyson in 2008, she ac­knowl­edged that it was “not true” that Em­mett had grabbed her or made vul­gar re­marks. She told Dr Tyson, who pub­lished a book about the case last year, that “noth­ing that boy did could ever jus­tify what hap­pened to him”.

Nei­ther Ms Don­ham nor Dr Tyson could be reached for com­ment on Thurs­day.

Ms Chiles said Ms Don­ham’s re­can­ta­tion should have pro­voked a new ex­am­i­na­tion by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties.

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