No Indictment In 1955 Mississippi Killing
Wednesday, February 28th 2007, 5:42 am
News On 6
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ The 1955 killing of Emmett Till for whistling at a white woman helped stir a nation's outrage and spark the civil rights movement. Yet after numerous investigations, it appears that nobody will ever be punished for the crime itself.
A grand jury in rural Leflore County all but closed the books on the case by refusing to indict the woman suspected of pointing out Till to her husband to punish the boy, according to documents made public Tuesday.
``You're looking at Mississippi. I guess it's about the same way it was 50 years ago,'' said Till's cousin Simeon Wright, 64, who was at a Chicago-area church where he'd gone for his regular weekly prayer. ``The grand jury looked in the mirror, and they blinked. They didn't like what they was looking at, apparently.''
Wright was on the porch of the Bryant Grocery & Meat Market in the heat of the Mississippi Delta when his 14-year-old cousin let out the infamous wolf-whistle at the white shopkeeper's wife.
A couple of nights later, two white men with flashlights and pistols kidnapped Till from his uncle's home in the town of Money. His mutilated body was found in the muddy Tallahatchie River, weighted down with a cotton gin fan. His left eye was missing, and his right eye was dangling on his cheek. The body was identified only by a ring he was wearing.
His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003, held an open-casket funeral in Chicago, and a photograph of Till's disfigured face in Jet Magazine had a powerful effect on public opinion, letting the world see what was happening in the South.
Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, were acquitted by an all-white jury in 1955. The two men later confessed in an interview with Look magazine. Both are now dead.
The FBI reopened the case in 2004 but decided last year not to press charges. The case was turned over to local prosecutors, with the FBI suggesting they take a closer look at Bryant's wife at the time, Carolyn. Some witnesses said a woman's voice could be heard at the scene of the abduction.
But the grand jury said Friday it found insufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, who remarried, is now 73. She has declined interviews and a telephone number for her was disconnected Tuesday.
David Beito, a history professor at the University of Alabama who has researched the case extensively, said Tuesday there is probably no one else left to arrest in the case. He said it is hard to underestimate the importance of the Till case, which took place the same year as the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott.
``It gave a jump-start to the civil rights movement,'' he said. ``It did not create the civil rights movement, but it made it more into a mass movement. It really mobilized people.''
Horace Harned, 86, a former Mississippi legislator and member of the Sovereignty Commission, a state agency that worked clandestinely to preserve segregation, said he was glad to see no charges filed. He said the suggestions that Donham had a role in the crime are ``a bunch of foolishness.''
``Of course, I don't believe in murder. That's the wrong thing. It always backfires on you. That shouldn't have happened,'' he said. But he added: ``You can't correct all the ills of the past. If we did, the Southerners were treated much worse than anybody back in the Civil War.''
Wright said: ``I don't know how many years I have left on this Earth. We can leave this world and say, 'Hey, we tried. We tried to get some justice in this, and we failed.'''