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‘What’s the Holdup?’: DOJ Continues Investigation Into Emmett Till’s Murder

The U.S. Justice Department is still investigating the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose brutal murder shocked the nation and was a catalyst for the civil rights movement more than 60 years ago.

Till’s 1955 slaying is among the active cases under review by the agency, according The Associated Press, citing an annual DOJ report to Congress regarding civil rights cold case investigations. The department relaunched its probe into the teen’s murder last year after receiving “new information” about the case.

Emmett till

Emmett Till, 14, was brutally murdered in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a white woman. (Photo: Getty Images)

Till, a Chicago native, was down South visiting family in Mississippi when he was kidnapped, beaten and drowned for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River days later.

The government shuttered the case in 2007, with authorities saying the suspects, J.W. Milam and his half-brother, Roy Bryant, were deceased. Both were acquitted by an all-white jury in 1955, and later confessed to Till’s murder in a magazine interview. They were never retried. 

Hope for justice seemed lost until the release of the 2017 book “The Blood Of Emmett Till,” in which a key witness in the case admitted to fabricating details of her encounter with the 14-year-old boy. Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman Till reportedly made advances at, told author Timothy Tyson her previous claims that Till was physically and verbally aggressive toward her were simply untrue.

“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she told Tyson at the time.

The revelation was enough for the DOJ to reopen the case.

The Rev. Wheeler Parker, who was with Till the night he was abducted, is hopeful now that the case is getting a second look, but admits he’s anxious for a resolution.

“We want them to go ahead and do something,” Parker, 80, told AP. “What is the holdup?”

Since re-opening the Till case, the DOJ has closed its reviews of six other racially motivated killings dated between 1940 and 1973, according to the report. The department said it shuttered the cases after failing to make any progress in them, whether it be due to dead suspects/witnesses or double-jeopardy laws prohibiting new charges against those who’ve already been prosecuted.

According to AP, the annual report is required under a law named in Till’s honor. 

So far, there have been no updates in the re-investigation or hints at when it might end. It’s possible new charges could be brought, but Parker said he isn’t holding his breath.

“At least they are touching it, [and] values have changed,” he told the outlet. “At least America has reached the point where they will investigate and you can’t go out and just kill people.”

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