‘Ev­ery­body needed to know what hap­pened’

Tampa Bay Times - - From The Front Page -

The bru­tal mur­der of Em­mett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mis­sis­sippi nearly 63 years ago went un­pun­ished, but not for­got­ten. A de­ci­sion by his mother, Mamie Til­lMob­ley, to al­low an open cas­ket at Em­mett’s Chicago fu­neral rep­re­sented an act of de­fi­ance as well as mourn­ing, help­ing to ig­nite the mod­ern civil rights move­ment. “Let the peo­ple see what I’ve seen,” she told the fu­neral di­rec­tor.

“I think ev­ery­body needed to know what had hap­pened to Em­mett Till,” she said in a PBS documentary in­ter­view. Those words ring loudly amid news Thurs­day that the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice has re­opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the 1955 slay­ing.

Many of the hor­rific de­tails of Till’s death, in­clud­ing the racist in­tent and iden­ti­ties of the killers, are known. The name Em­mett Till re­mains a pow­er­ful by­word of the AfricanAmer­i­can struggle for equal­ity.

What’s miss­ing is clo­sure. And jus­tice. Em­mett Till was 14 years old in the sum­mer of 1955, liv­ing with his mother in a two-flat at 6427 S St. Lawrence Ave., when he was put on a train to visit relatives near Money, Miss. The story told by a 21-year-old white woman was that Em­mett propo­si­tioned and whis­tled at her at a cor­ner store. Days later, Em­mett was ab­ducted. His body was found in the Tal­la­hatchie River, weighted down by a cast iron cot­ton gin pul­ley. He’d been beaten sav­agely and shot in the head.

The case was a sen­sa­tion. Pho­tos in Jet mag­a­zine of Em­mett’s mu­ti­lated body shocked Amer­ica. Two white Mis­sis­sippi men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, were ac­quit­ted of the mur­der by an all-white, small­town Mis­sis­sippi jury that de­lib­er­ated for a lit­tle over an hour, in­clud­ing a Coke break. Rosa Parks said she had Em­mett Till in mind in De­cem­ber 1955 when she re­fused to move to the back of a bus in Mont­gomery, Ala.

A month later, Bryant, who was Don­ham’s hus­band, and Milam ad­mit­ted their guilt to Look mag­a­zine.

The pair are dead, as is Em­mett Till’s mother, but the woman from the cor­ner store, Carolyn Don­ham, is alive. About a decade ago, the Jus­tice Depart­ment and Mis­sis­sippi pros­e­cu­tors re-in­ves­ti­gated the mur­der; they de­clined to move for­ward. A year later, though, Don­ham talked to writer Ti­mothy B. Tyson and said she hadn’t been truth­ful in her trial tes­ti­mony. “Noth­ing that boy did could ever jus­tify what hap­pened to him,” she’s quoted as say­ing in Tyson’s re­cently pub­lished book, The Blood of Em­mett Till.

Don­ham’s in­ter­view could be the rea­son for a re­newed fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. She wasn’t talk­ing as of Thurs­day af­ter­noon. The Jus­tice Depart­ment told Congress in a re­port in March that it is again look­ing into the killing be­cause of “new in­for­ma­tion.” It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that the an­nual re­port to Congress on un­solved civil rights crimes is man­dated by leg­is­la­tion named in recog­ni­tion of Em­mett Till.

His legacy en­dures. And now there is a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We hope that means the na­tion one day soon will know all the facts of what hap­pened to Em­mett Till.

Em­mett Louis Till, 14, of Chicago was kid­napped, tor­tured and killed in 1955 while vis­it­ing relatives in Mis­sis­sippi.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.