05/10/2004

Emmett Till Case is Reopened

WASHINGTON | The Justice Department announced today that it is reopening the investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago youth whose death while visiting relatives in Mississippi was an early catalyst for the civil rights movement.

Till was abducted from his uncle's home in Money, Mississippi, on August 28, 1955. His mutilated body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. Pictures of the dead teenager shocked the world.

Two white men charged with murder, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J. W. Milam, were acquitted by an all-white jury. Look magazine in 1956 published an account of the slaying in which Milam admitted to the killing, which occurred after Till purportedly whistled at Bryant's wife in their store. Both men have since died.

"This brutal murder and grotesque miscarriage of justice outraged a nation and helped galvanize support for the modern American civil rights movement," said R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil rights. "We owe it to Emmett Till, and we owe it ourselves, to see whether after all these years, some additional measure of justice remains possible."

Acosta said it is possible that others were involved in the killing. The five-year statute of limitations on any federal charges expired decades ago, but a state case could still be brought. The FBI and Justice Department prosecutors will work on the investigation with Joyce Chiles, district attorney for Mississippi's 4th Judicial District.

Till is one of 40 individuals commemorated on the Civil Rights Memorial for giving their lives in the struggle for equal rights. His story, along with those of the other 39, is told in the Center's publication Free At Last: A History of the Civil Rights Movement and Those Who Died in the Struggle.

Published in 1989, a revised version of Free at Last, including updates on several of the civil rights murders, will be available in September.