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No New Charges as Justice Department Officially Closes Emmett Till Case

The U.S. Department of Justice has officially ended investigation into the barbaric 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, unable to find proof that key witness Carolyn Bryant Donham lied.

Three years after the reopening of the Emmett Till case, the Justice Department was unable to conclude that Carolyn Bryant Donham lied, closing the federal investigation without federal charges according to CNN.

In 2017, Timothy B. Tyson, Duke University professor and author of the book The Blood of Emmett Till,  unearthed evidence that Carolyn Bryant Donham, the then-20-year-old woman at the center of the Emmett Till case, had recanted her accusations towards Till following his August 1955 murder. As the book re-opened the case, it drew a closer look into Donham, who accused 14-year-old Till of whistling at her while visiting a small grocery store in Mississippi.

Arriving on vacation from Chicago, Till was visiting relatives in the Delta region of Mississippi, where he was later abducted and killed by a violent mob of whites who heard about his “encounter” with Donham. In a 2007 interview with Tyson, Donham — then 72-years-old — confessed that she fabricated the story that Till allegedly whistled and made advances towards her. Till, who had an ongoing stutter due to contracting polio at six-years-old, likely had a lisp according to a 2017 Vanity Fair article.

Donham’s reported confession set off outrage from Till’s living relatives the public alike, with demands for the case to be reopened. The Justice Department alleged that since Donham’s interview was not recorded or transcribed, that Tyson’s claims of recantation was invalid. With accountability amiss, Donham–now 87-years-old–continues to avoid discussing the murder.

Despite the end of the notorious case, the story of Emmett Till will make its way to theaters in 2022. In October, Variety reported that upcoming Chinonye Chuwku-directed biopic Till rounded out its cast, with actor Jalyn Hall playing Till in the MGM Orion Pictures film.

Jaelani Turner-Williams

Jaelani Turner-Williams is a contributing news writer for Okayplayer with bylines at Billboard, MTV News, NYLON, Recording Academy and more. Read her mind on Twitter at @hernameisjae.

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Jaelani Turner-Williams

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