Despite the FBI’s reopening of the 52-year-old case, the family of Emmett Till received little closure on his murder last week.
Emmett was a black 14-year-old boy who was murdered during the summer of 1955 for whistling at a white woman in Money, Miss. Emmett was kidnapped in the middle of the night, beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head and tossed into the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound metal fan from a cotton gin attached to his neck with barbed wire.
When the body was pulled from the river, the police report stated, “The crown of his head was just crushed out … and a piece of his skull just fell out.”
At Emmett’s funeral, his mother, Mamie, allowed Jet, a nationwide black magazine, to publish extremely graphic photographs of her son’s mutilated body, that outraged blacks throughout the United States. Emmett’s death helped galvanize the civil rights movement – however, justice was never found.
Emmett’s killers, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, were found not guilty of kidnapping and murder by an all-white jury. The jury delibirated for only 67 minutes.
One juror told a reporter it would have taken less time if they had not stopped for a soda break.
In January 1956, Bryant and Milam admitted to Look magazine that they did, in fact, kill Emmett. Because of double jeopardy, Bryant and Milam could not be tried again for the crime. But instead they were paid $4,000 for their story. In 1981, Milam died from cancer. Thirteen years later, Bryant died from cancer as well.
In spring 2004, the U.S. Justice Department opened a new investigation at the request of the district attorney in Greenwood, Miss. This investigation was opened based on evidence that suggested more than a dozen people might have been involved in Emmett’s murder, and at least five of them may still be alive.
During the three-year investigation, the FBI amassed an 8,000-page file. However, the local prosecutor recently announced that a grand jury declined to return an indictment.
The Till family has suffered for more than 50 years knowing Emmett’s murderers were allowed to go free despite the eyewitness testimonies and concrete evidence against Bryant and Milam. For the killers to admit to the murder in a magazine just rubbed salt in the family’s still-fresh wounds.The least I could hope for is that after all this time, some justice would be served. That would mean convicting at least one of the five people still alive who were possibly involved in the murder.
Carolyn Bryant, the woman Emmett whistled at and the wife of Roy Bryant, was being investigated, but a Mississippi grand jury ruled there was insufficient evidence to indict her. However, Emmett’s cousin, Simeon Wright, who was with Emmett the night he was kidnapped, told the Associated Press, “From what I saw, I think they had enough evidence to indict. Every last person up to now has gotten away with murder.”
Leslie Milam, a relative of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, confessed on his deathbed to a pastor that he helped kill Emmett, according to the FBI report released last week. Wright said all the investigation did was prove that the Till family will never have any closure.
“There are some things that will never be resolved about the Till case until someone comes forward,” Wright said to the AP. “Maybe they’ll just take it to the grave.”My heart goes out to the Till family, because I feel as though no one fought hard enough to try to give them some peace of mind. After three years of digging up facts, getting names and conducting an autopsy, the best they could get was a deathbed confession.
Maybe people feel this case is so old that it needs to be let go. However, in a case as brutal as this, it’s hard to comprehend that no justice will be served. Anyone who has seen the infamous pictures of Emmett’s disfigured face cannot help but feel disgusted that his murderers were set free.This was the last hope that some light could be shed on Emmett’s case, but now it looks as if no one will ever know the actual events that took place that evening in the small, southern town of Money during the summer of ’55.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.