JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – In 1995, Chicago teen Emmett Till was taken from a Mississippi home, beaten and killed after allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant.
The two men responsible, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, were tried and acquitted by an all-white jury.
This sparked civil outrage and fueled the Civil Rights Movement. In the early 2000s, a novice filmmaker presented new evidence causing the FBI to reopen the case.
“It’s amazing that I was the one who brought the evidence forward to get the case reopened in 2004, and now we’re sitting right now talking about a decision that was made. It would be quite helpful, and it would give some closing to this chapter of the Emmett Till case if Carolyn Bryant comes forward and tell us what she knows,” said Director Keith Beauchamp.
Beauchamp worked closely with Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley in her fight for justice in the death of her son.
“It’s was our way to use filmmaking as an activism tool to make sure that justice prevails in this case,” said Beauchamp.
However, the Justice Department closed the case earlier this week.
“I hate to say it, but I was not surprised. I reported about a year ago; I was reporting that basically the Justice Department would basically close this case,” said investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell.
Mitchell has spent decades writing investigative stories on cold cases from the Civil Rights era.
“I will give the FBI tremendous credit for their investigation in the Emmett Till case. They did a tremendous job of piecing together what information was available,” he said.
“The question that everyone should be asking is why hasn’t Carolyn Bryant been held accountable for her participation in the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, especially when there’s overwhelming evidence,” said Beauchamp.
Due to the age of the case, it’s been the statue of limitations on a federal level but not the state.
“They kind of made a run at that in 2007, and we’re unsuccessful so unless the state changes its mind and decides to pursue those additional charges, I think that’s probably it unfortunately with this case,” said Mitchell.
“I’m one of these that believe it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re involved in a serious crime like this especially, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you should be prosecuted,” said author Devery Anderson.
Anderson is the author of “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked The World and Propelled The Civil Rights Movement.”
“Even though in the end it did not result in any prosecution of anybody still living, we learned a lot. Found the trial transcript as a result of that investigation that’d been missing for decades, learned of other people that were involved, found the murder weapon,” said Anderson.
The limited series “Women of the Movement” is inspired by Anderson’s book.
“Even after the acquittal which happened in September ’55, it took our community over 50 years to come to the place where we would begin to talk about race and racism and what reconciliation could look like,” said Benjamin Saulsberry.
Saulsberry works for the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi, where the Till case was tried.
“To have this case reopened and then still it being concluded without a person being able to be brought to justice or anything of the sort again, goes back to the fact that justice has evaded this family and our communities,” said Saulsberry.
Even with the disappointing decision to close the case, the Till proponents acknowledge the victories surround this case.
“His death helped to fuel civil rights legislation that came later in the 1950s and in the 1960s and then later in recent decades. An act was named after him that was all about the pursuit of these civil rights cold cases that have never been punished,” said Mitchell.
“This was the catalyst that sparked the American Civil Rights Movement. He is why we have free liberties in this country. So, it really reflects not just on the justice department, but it reflects on this whole country in terms of where we at today when we talk about what justice is,” said Beauchamp.
All the advocates for Emmett Till’s justice are hopeful the family receives closure and for Carolyn Bryant Donham to break her silence after all these years. The decision to continue this case is now in the hands of the Mississippi Department of Justice.