ALL NEWS

Emmett Till’s investigation closed, no justice for his family

Dec 7, 2021, 7:57 AM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:21 am
Emmett Louis Till, 14, with his mother, Mamie Bradley, at home in Chicago. Photo: CNN / TNS/ABACA v...
Emmett Louis Till, 14, with his mother, Mamie Bradley, at home in Chicago. Photo: CNN / TNS/ABACA via Reuters

(CNN) — Thelma Wright Edwards waited more than 65 years for someone to be held accountable for Emmett Till’s murder, but her hope vanished this week.

“I pinned diapers on Emmett. I lived with him, he was like a brother to me,” said Edwards of her cousin Emmett. “I have no hate in my heart, but I had hoped we could get an apology. But that didn’t happen, nothing was settled. The case is closed, and we have to go on from here.”

For the past four years, a controversial claim led federal officials to revisit the 1955 murder case that fueled the civil rights movement. As the investigation was officially closed on Monday, Emmett’s family members said at this point they think justice for Emmett may only be in God’s hands.

“We’re disappointed that no one has to paid for the tragic, brutal murder of a 14-year old-boy,” said Marvel Parker, executive director of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute, who is married to one of Emmett’s cousins. “But there’s no hatred in our hearts even, because we believe what the Lord said to many: ‘Vengeance is mine,’ he is the righteous judge.”

Her husband, Rev. Wheeler Park, was 16 years old when Emmett was killed. He said seeing his cousin being demonized left a mark on his family.

“For 66 years, we have suffered pain. I suffered tremendously because of the way that they painted him back in the day,” Parker said.

The family was not surprised to hear that federal investigators did not find evidence that would lead to federal charges.

“We cannot stop even though we don’t feel that we got justice,” said Ollie Gordon, another of Emmett’s cousins. “We still must move forward so that these particular hate crimes will not continue to be done and no justice is bound.”

The Justice Department closed its investigation into Emmett’s killing for a second time after federal officials could not prove that the woman who accused the 14-year-old had lied.

The case was reopened nearly four years ago “upon the discovery of new information,” the department said at the time and failed to elaborate further. But the actions of federal investigators followed a firestorm of calls for re-opening the case, prompted by the release of the book “The Blood of Emmett Till,” in which Carolyn Bryant Donham appears to recant her claims against the boy.

Sources familiar with the investigation told CNN that the critical statements Tyson attributed to Donham were not recorded or transcribed, and he gave inconsistent statements of whether a recording had ever been made.

When federal investigators spoke to Donham, she denied ever recanting her earlier testimony. CNN has reached out to Donham for comment.

In a statement to CNN, Tyson stood by his story.

“My reporting is rock solid,” Tyson said in a statement to CNN. “Carolyn Bryant denies it and avoids talking about it like it was the plague. I am standing in the public square telling the truth as I see it based on solid evidence.”

The Justice Department was pursuing the investigation under the 2007 unsolved civil rights crime act that bears Emmett’s name. The act paves the way for the department to “expeditiously investigate” unsolved pre-1980 civil rights murders.

The murder and acquittal

Emmett, known as “Bobo” by those close to him, was falsely accused of flirting with and making advances at then-21-year-old Donham, who, along with her then-husband, Roy, owned a grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Emmett had traveled there from Chicago to visit his great-uncle, who lived in the area.

Four days later, on August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, rousted Emmett from his bed in the middle of the night, ordered him into the bed of a pickup and eventually beat him viciously before shooting him in the head.

His murderers then strapped a 75-pound cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire so it would weigh him down when they tossed him in the Tallahatchie River.

Not a month after the boy’s body was pulled from the river, an all-White jury acquitted Bryant and Milam of Emmett’s murder, despite eyewitnesses identifying the defendants and the men confessing to kidnapping the teen. Testifying for the defense, Carolyn Bryan Donham offered incendiary testimony accusing Emmett of grabbing and verbally threatening her.

Bryant and Milam told a reporter in 1955 how they killed Emmett and dumped his body in the Tallahatchie, but because of double jeopardy laws, they couldn’t be tried again. Milam died in 1980. Roy Bryant died in 1994.

An ‘unfortunate pattern’

Although the outcome of the DOJ investigation left many “heartbroken and saddened,” Benjamin Saulsberry, public engagement director at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi, said social justice and racial reconciliation advocates are hopeful.

The center is located in the town where the two men accused of killing Emmett Till were acquitted by an all-White jury.

“The conclusion of this investigation is one that is heartbreaking and tragic in a lot of ways because it falls in line with the unfortunate pattern that has persisted, Saulsberry said.

Historically speaking, perpetrators who kill Black people evade justice and it’s tragic, he said.

Despite the investigation being closed, Saulsberry told CNN he and those who work with the Mississippi center remain hopeful. What adds to that, Saulsberry said, is that the Department of Justice and the FBI have relentlessly worked on the case.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

A new study finds that reports of bad weather and air actually decrease ridership on the UTA....
Devin Oldroyd

Relief from inversion and poor air quality may be in Utah’s near future

The Beehive State is in the middle of some thick inversion and poor air quality, but relief may be on the way according to the National Weather Service.
20 hours ago
Salt Lake City Police say three sticks of dynamite were safely removed from a house this week by it...
Mark Jones

Three sticks of dynamite removed from Salt Lake City home

Three sticks of dynamite were removed from a Salt Lake City home on Wednesday, the SLCPD announced. The dynamite have been seized for investigation.
20 hours ago
A study by Intermountain Health that spanned 40 years and sought answers about the health of people...
Simone Seikaly

Intermountain’s 40-year study provides insight into weight-loss surgery

In some cases the results from the weight-loss surgery study were expected. But at least one result could be a cause for alarm and caution.
20 hours ago
defraud...
Britt Johnson

Utah County men facing charges for defrauding the United States

The claims state that Zachary Bassett and Mason Warr used a fraudulent tax scheme to receive COVID-19-related relief funds.
20 hours ago
SLCC to host Black History Month events....
Waverly Golden

Salt Lake Community College to host Black History Month events

The Salt Lake City Community College is hosting numerous events in recognition of Black History Month including a film viewing and panel.
20 hours ago
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsor of HB297 Victim Services Amendments, poses for a portrait at...
Katie McKellar, Deseret News

A Utah lawmaker and her sister at odds: Should rape victims need to contact police before getting an abortion?

Rep. Kera Birkeland says her bill focuses on rape victim services and holding rapists accountable. But her sister, a rape survivor, says it strips away choices.
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
Emmett Till’s investigation closed, no justice for his family