DOJ re­opens Till case amid book rev­e­la­tions

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Kristine Phillips

WASH­ING­TON — New in­for­ma­tion pub­lished in a 2017 book prompted fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors to reopen their probe into the 1955 lynch­ing of Em­mett Till in ru­ral Mis­sis­sippi, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the case.

Till, a 14-year-old boy vis­it­ing from Chicago, was killed af­ter he was ac­cused of whistling at and mak­ing sex­ual ad­vances to­ward a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, dur­ing an in­ter­ac­tion at Bryant’s gro­cery store in Money, Miss. The teen was kid­napped Aug. 28, 1955, and was tor­tured and shot.

His man­gled body was found days later in the Tal­la­hatchie River.

The book, “The Blood of Em­mett Till,” by his­to­rian Ti­mothy Tyson, in­cludes the first-known in­ter­view with Bryant, dur­ing which she con­ceded that Till had not come on to her sex­u­ally — a dis­clo­sure that con­tra­dicted her tes­ti­mony six decades ear­lier, when she told a jury that Till grabbed her by the waist and ut­tered ob­scen­i­ties.

“That part’s not true,” Bryant told Tyson, ac­cord­ing to the book. “Noth­ing that boy did could ever jus­tify what hap­pened to him.”

The re­lease of Tyson’s book in Jan­uary 2017 reignited in­ter­est in the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case, which put a spot­light on racial vi­o­lence and gal­va­nized the civil rights move­ment. The book also spurred spec­u­la­tion about whether Bryant, now known as Carolyn Don­ham, could face charges.

The Wash­ing­ton Post was un­able to reach Don­ham, who is now in her 80s and lives in Raleigh, N.C.. The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that a man who an­swered the door at her home told a re­porter: “We don’t want to talk to you.”

Tyson, who said he talked to Don­ham dur­ing two in­ter­views in 2008 and fin­ished writ­ing the book eight years later, said some­one from the FBI con­tacted him a few months af­ter his book was pub­lished. He gave the FBI agent “every­thing he wanted to see,” Tyson said, and his re­search ma­te­ri­als were sub­poe­naed.

He added, how­ever, that he does not be­lieve the in­ves­ti­ga­tion would lead to any crim­i­nal charges.

“Be­cause the only thing that she dis­closed to me is per­jury, that she tes­ti­fied falsely in court,” said Tyson, a se­nior re­search scholar at Duke Uni­ver­sity. “The statute of lim­i­ta­tions on that ran out in 1958.”

Tyson re­ceived a copy of Don­ham’s un­pub­lished mem­oir, “More Than a Wolf Whis­tle: The Mem­oir of Carolyn Bryant Don­ham,” which he gave to the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill un­der the re­stric­tion that it not be re­leased un­til 2036 or un­til Don­ham’s death.

He said he does not know why Don­ham de­cided to talk to him.

Don­ham’s for­mer hus­band, Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, were pros­e­cuted for Till’s death. An all-white jury ac­quit­ted them af­ter just over an hour of de­lib­er­a­tion — but the two later told a jour­nal­ist that they had killed Till. They died with­out be­ing con­victed.

Fed­eral and state of­fi­cials have rein­ves­ti­gated the case in re­cent decades. The case was closed in 2007.

In March, a year af­ter Tyson’s book was pub­lished, the Jus­tice De­part­ment told Con­gress in a re­port that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Till’s death has been re­opened “af­ter re­ceiv­ing new in­for­ma­tion.”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day.

TER­RENCE AN­TO­NIO JAMES/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

The grave site of Em­mett Till at Burr Oak Ceme­tery in Al­sip, Ill. Till, 14, was ab­ducted, tor­tured and killed in 1955.

Till

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