NC au­thor who re­vealed lie in Em­mett Till case skep­ti­cal of new probe

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY JOSH SHAF­FER jshaf­[email protected]­sob­ The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this story. Josh Shaf­fer: 919- 829- 4818, @joshshaf­fer08

Au­thor Ti­mothy Tyson dis­missed the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s re­open­ing of the in­fa­mous Em­mett Till civil rights mur­der case Thurs­day, calling it an “ut­terly cyn­i­cal, com­pletely hyp­o­crit­i­cal po­lit­i­cal show” by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

His re­marks came af­ter The As­so­ci­ated Press re­vealed Thurs­day morn­ing that the Jus­tice De­part­ment is rein­ves­ti­gat­ing Till’s slay­ing in Mis­sis­sippi af­ter re­ceiv­ing “new in­for­ma­tion,” ac­cord­ing to a fed­eral re­port sent an­nu­ally to law­mak­ers un­der a law that bears Till’s name.

The re­port is­sued in late March doesn’t in­di­cate what that in­for­ma­tion might be, The AP re­ports. The case had been closed since 2007.

But Tyson, a se­nior re­search scholar at Duke’s Cen­ter for Doc­u­men­tary Stud­ies, broke the long si­lence on the case last year with his book “The Blood of Em­mett Till,” which many in civil rights cir­cles cred­ited with trig­ger­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s move.

In the book, Carolyn Bryant Don­ham, who is 84 and now lives in Raleigh, ac­knowl­edged to Tyson that she didn’t tell the truth in 1955 about the cir­cum­stances that led to Till’s death.

Thurs­day af­ter­noon at a press con­fer­ence, Tyson called the re­opened in­ves­ti­ga­tion a cal­cu­lated at­tempt on be­half of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to im­prove its civil rights pro­file in the face of neg­a­tive news about im­mi­grant chil­dren sep­a­rated from their par­ents at the Mexican bor­der and with con­tin­ued ef­forts to un­der­mine mi­nor­ity vot­ing rights.

The Till case, Tyson said, is both fa­mous and free of po­lit­i­cal risk be­cause most of those in­volved are dead.

“There’s no one to pros­e­cute,” Tyson said. “There’s no po­lit­i­cal ca­su­al­ties. This is a low-cost thing.”

For his book, Tyson in­ter­viewed Don­ham in 2008, in which she re­vis­ited her 1955 state­ment that Till had grabbed her around the waist and in­sin­u­ated that he had been with white women be­fore.

Though her tes­ti­mony was not al­lowed, the story arose in clos­ing state­ments at the trial. To Tyson, she ex­plained, “That part’s not true.”

The case was closed in 2007 with au­thor­i­ties say­ing the sus­pects were dead; a state grand jury didn’t file any new charges, The AP re­ports.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports a man who came to the door at Don­ham’s res­i­dence de­clined to com­ment about the FBI re­open­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We don’t want to talk to you,” the man said be­fore go­ing back in­side.

It’s un­clear what new charges could re­sult from a re­newed in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said Tucker Car­ring­ton, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi law school, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

Con­spir­acy or mur­der charges could be filed if any­one still alive is shown to have been in­volved, he said, but too much time likely has passed to pros­e­cute any­one for other crimes, such as ly­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors or in court.


Till’s 1955 slay­ing is of­ten cred­ited with ig­nit­ing the civil rights move­ment, re­port­edly at the front of Rosa Parks’ mind as she re­fused to give up her bus seat in Alabama.

Tor­tured, shot and tossed into the Tal­la­hatchie River, the 14-year-old from Chicago had re­port­edly made ad­vances on a white woman, though ac­counts of what took place var­ied widely and were never to­tally aired in court.

Till’s ac­cused killers – Roy Bryant and J.W. “Big” Milam – were ac­quit­ted in court but had con­fessed to the crime in a mag­a­zine in­ter­view. But with both of them dead, the trail to new rev­e­la­tions had gone rel­a­tively cold.


Tyson said the FBI con­tacted him shortly af­ter the book was pub­lished in 2017 and that he turned over all his re­search ma­te­ri­als af­ter be­ing placed un­der sub­poena.

News of the re­opened in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­earthed deep in a fed­eral re­port re­leased in March. At a press con­fer­ence Thurs­day, Tyson was asked how the Jus­tice De­part­ment could be seek­ing to shine up its im­age with such an ob­scure place­ment.

“It’s front page news of The New York Times,” he said. “I know that.”

Tyson said he met with Don­ham twice in 2008. He had been ap­proached by fam­ily mem­bers in Raleigh who had read his other book, and he met with Don­ham at their in­vi­ta­tion. The in­ter­view was recorded with her knowl­edge, he said, but he de­scribed her health as poor.

“She seemed to be in a sor­row­ful state of mind,” he said.

Tyson re­ceived a copy of Don­ham’s un­pub­lished mem­oir “More Than a Wolf Whis­tle: The Mem­oir of Carolyn Bryant Don­ham,” which he gave to UNC-Chapel Hill un­der the re­stric­tion it not pub­lished un­til 2036 or her death, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post.

At the press con­fer­ence Thurs­day, he con­firmed he had read the mem­oir.

Tyson said the Till in­ves­ti­ga­tion has never re­ally closed. But he knew of no ac­tion that might come from pur­su­ing it further other than Don­ham be­ing charged with per­jury, which is not pos­si­ble due to a long-ex­pired statute of lim­i­ta­tions.

Asked if she should be pros­e­cuted, he said, “I don’t know. You’re just go­ing to have to ask an at­tor­ney about that.”

Ti­mothy Tyson

Carolyn Bryant

Em­mett Till

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