As DOJ reopens 1955 lynching case of Emmett Till, we examine its historical significance

Jul 12, 2018

FBI Considers Exhuming Emmett Till's Body

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery May 4, 2005 in Aslip, Illinois. The FBI is considering exhuming the body of Till, whose unsolved 1955 murder in Money, Mississippi, after whistling at a white woman helped spark the U.S. civil rights movement. ; Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images


The federal government has reopened its investigation into the slaying of Emmett Till, the black teenager whose brutal killing in Mississippi shocked the world and helped inspire the civil rights movement more than 60 years ago.

The Justice Department told Congress in a report in March that it is reinvestigating Till’s slaying in Money, Mississippi, in 1955 after receiving “new information.” The case was closed in 2007 with authorities saying the suspects were dead; a state grand jury didn’t file any new charges.

The federal report, sent annually to lawmakers under a law that bears Till’s name, does not indicate what the new information might be.

But it was issued in late March after the publication last year of “The Blood of Emmett Till,” a book that says a key figure in the case acknowledged lying about events preceding the slaying of the 14-year-old youth from Chicago.

The book, by Timothy B. Tyson, quotes a white woman, Carolyn Donham, as acknowledging during a 2008 interview that she wasn’t truthful when she testified that Till grabbed her, whistled and made sexual advances at a store in 1955.

We discuss the latest, plus the historical significance of the reopening of this investigation in this moment.

With files from the Associated Press.


Devery Anderson, author of the book, “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement” (University of Mississippi Press, 2015); he tweets @DeveryAnderson

David Houck, founder of the Emmett Till archives at Florida State University; professor of communications at the school

Darryl Maceauthor of the book, “Remembrance of Emmett Till: Regional Stories and Media Responses to the Black Freedom Struggle” (University Press of Kentucky, 2014); professor of history at Cabrini University in Pennyslvania 

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