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A new investigation into Emmett Till’s murder was recently closed by the Department of Justice, after initially reopening the case based on allegations that a key witness lied to law enforcement.  An explosive 2017 book about the incident alleged that Carolyn Bryant Donham lied about her encounter with young Emmett Till, who was just 14-years-old at the time of his murder. 

At first, Ms. Donham stated that Emmett whistled at her and made advances while she worked as a cashier in a grocery store she owned with her husband. However, a 2017 book by Professor Timothy Tyson revealed that Ms. Donham later recanted her version of the events. 

Ms. Donham, who, at 80-years-old is six years older than Emmett Till would be today, still insists she did not lie to investigators. However, in an interview with CNN, Professor Tyson stated, “My reporting is rock solid. Carolyn Bryant (Donham) denies it and avoids talking about it like it was the plague. I am standing in the public square telling the truth as I see it based on solid evidence.”

Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi during the incident with Ms. Donham, in which he allegedly made sexual advances and told her that he had been with white women previously. Witnesses, however, could not come to a unified version of the events of that fateful encounter.

What’s clear is that Emmett was later kidnapped, tortured, and killed by two white men, who were later tried and acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men, who have since died, later confessed to the murder.  

This is not the first time young Emmett Till’s murder has been reinvestigated by law enforcement. In 2004, the Justice Department reopened the case following inquiries regarding the statute of limitations for those involved. However, that case was also closed when a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone. 

Young Emmett Till’s murder sparked outrage across the nation when his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open-casket funeral. Emmett’s mutilated body was on display as a warning to other Black people, as well as an indictment of white supremacy and systemic racism. 

Ms. Till-Mobley spent the remainder of her life fighting for justice for Emmett and promoting civil rights for all people of color in the United States and across the world. Her story will soon be told in a new series airing on ABC, “Women of the Movement.” 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...