The U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday that it was closing its cold case investigation into the murder of Emmett Till. “Today is a day that we’ll never forget,” Till’s cousin Rev. Wheeler Parker said at a press conference after the announcement.
“Officially, the Emmett Till case has been closed after 66 years,” Parker said. “For 66 years we have suffered pain for his loss, and I suffered tremendously because of the way that they painted him.”
14-year-old Till was lynched after accusations that he flirted with a White woman named Carolyn Bryant. His killing on August 28, 1955, set the growing Civil Rights Movement into motion and caused a rallying cry nationwide. Four days before his killing, it was rumored that he had flirted with Bryant. This was a huge offense at the time. This speculation led to two White men kidnapping Till, later beating him, and shooting him dead.
Bryant’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged with Till’s murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men, who have since died, confessed to the killing in a paid magazine interview months later.
In 2018, an investigation into Till’s killing was opened following the publication of Timothy Tyson’s book “The Blood of Emmett Till”. The book alleged that Bryant had recanted her testimony, telling author Tyson that she lied about the incident.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Bryant, who has since married and now known as Carolyn Bryant Donham, was alleged to have told Tyson.
But during the investigation, Bryant denied that she recanted her testimony in an interview with the FBI. The FBI concluded that “there was insufficient evidence to prove that she lied to the FBI by denying that she recanted her testimony,” ABC News reported.
In a letter to Till’s family, the Justice Department said that the FBI identified “significant obstacles” to proving that Bryant’s testimony was false including that Bryant’s recantation mentioned in Tyson’s book was not in recordings or transcripts provided to the FBI, according to the report by ABC News.
The report said officials from the Department of Justice and the FBI met privately with Till’s family to share their findings. Thelma Wright Edwards, Till’s cousin, said she is not surprised although her heart is broken.
“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,” she said, according to ABC News.
A previous federal investigation opened in 2004 and a grand jury inquiry that followed did not yield any result as prosecutors indicated that the statute of limitations for criminal charges had passed, NBC News reported. Tyson’s book would cause the case to be reopened in 2018. Today, the author still stands by what he reported.
“As I write in the book on page 6, Carolyn Bryant Donham’s ‘confession’ to me was corroborated by her own account, given to her attorney only days after Emmett Till’s body was found — her attorney, who could not testify against her, in private, and right after,” he said in a statement to ABC News.
“She told her attorney her story, but did not mention any physical contact, which she described in court as more or less a rape attempt; when she told me ‘that part’s not true’ I was well aware of that. There is a lot of evidence.”
A woman who identified herself as a member of Bryant’s family told ABC News “she’s glad it’s done,” referring to the closure of the investigation.