Six decades after a white woman’s murderous lie incited the white supremacist lynching that pushed the civil rights movement into second gear, Department of Justice officials told Congress they were still looking into it.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the Department of Justice updated Congress on the progress of cold civil rights cases. The report was a requirement of the Emmett Till Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act, which mandates that DOJ officials must update legislators once a year on the progress of unsolved, civil rights-era cold cases. The recent report closed six unsolved murders: Elbert Williams in Brownsville, Tenn. in 1940; Dan Carter Sanders in Johnston Township, N.C., in 1946; Peter Francis in Perry, Maine, in 1965; Lee Culbreath in Portland, Ark., in 1965; John Thomas Jr. in West Point, Miss., in 1970; and Milton Lee Scott in 1973 in Baton Rouge, La. All but one of the victims were black—Peter Francis was Native American.
On Aug. 28, 1955, Carolyn Donham (then known as Carolyn Bryant) told her husband Roy Bryant that 14-year-old Emmett Till had whistled at her in their Money, Miss., store. That night, Roy and his half brother John “J.W.” Milam kidnapped Till, beat him, shot him, tied an industrial fan to the teenager’s body and threw him into a river. During a subsequent grand jury investigation, Carolyn testified that Till had assaulted her. While her husband and Milam admitted to kidnapping Till, they insisted that they let him go later that night.
They were lying.
It took an all-white jury 67 minutes to acquit Milam and Roy Bryant on all charges. One juror stated: “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.”
Milam and Roy Bryant eventually confessed to the killing in Look Magazine. In 2015, Carolyn Donham told a Vanity Fair writer that she was not telling the truth when she testified that Till had grabbed her, verbally threatened her and used an “unprintable” word to explain that he had “done something...with white women before.”
The FBI reopened the case and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions even met with Till’s relatives in 2017. But, despite knowing who killed Till, that he was killed as a result of a lie and knowing who told the lie, agents can’t seem to make any progress.
“We want them to go ahead and do something,” said the 80-year-old Rev. Wheeler Parker, Till’s uncle, who was with Till the night he was murdered “What is the holdup?”
Till’s family said they have not had contact with Carolyn Bryant Donham but she probably would have just told her husband that Till’s relatives were trying to whistle at her if they did.
Maybe Donald Trump is pressuring Attorney General William Barr to solve this case. If not, one of Till’s family members can file charges against the FBI for lying while in office. I’m sure someone can find evidence of DOJ officials perjuring themselves when they put their hands over their hearts and said:
...With liberty and justice for all.