Carolyn Bryant Donham admitted in a book published in January that she had lied about something that very well could’ve directly led to Emmett Till being killed in 1955 by men who were never convicted for the crime.
She repeated the lie to the FBI a decade ago, and now Justice Department officials are looking at reopening the case because of it, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
“The Department is currently assessing whether the newly revealed statement could warrant additional investigation,” Acting Assistant Attorney General T.E. Wheeler II wrote U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson in a letter, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
“We caution, however, that even with our best efforts, investigations into historic cases are exceptionally difficult, and there may be insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers to bringing federal charges against any remaining living persons,” he added.
Donham said Till, a black 14-year-old visiting Mississippi from Chicago, wolf-whistled at her in a convenience store on Aug. 24, 1955. Her then-husband, Roy Bryant, heard about it from another customer a few days later and he and his half-brother J.W. Milam abducted Till from his uncle’s home. Three days later, Till’s body was found floating in a nearby river with a 75-pound gin fan tied to his neck. He had been brutally beaten and shot in the head.
During the trial of the two men, Donham claimed – in testimony the judge deemed inadmissible – that Till had grabbed her, asked her on a date and said he had been with white women before. She admitted that was a lie to Timothy B. Tyson, author of the book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” which was published in January.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Tyson quoted Donham as saying.
An all-white jury acquitted both men of the crime. The FBI reopened the case in 2004, but Donham repeated the lie that Till had touched her. Lying to the FBI is a federal crime, but it has a five-year statute of limitations.
Even with news of the Justice Department considering reopening the case, many didn’t seem optimistic Till would ever receive real justice. Some specifically said they doubted the Trump administration, and head of the Justice Department Jeff Sessions.
Doubt about Sessions stems from past statements and actions he has taken that many view as racist. Most relevant to the Emmett Till case were comments Sessions made as attorney general in Alabama in the 1980s – a young black man had been kidnapped and brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, and Sessions said he thought the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” Sessions has since said the statement was a joke, but that comment and others cost him a federal judgeship in 1986.
Former colleagues of Sessions say the media has portrayed him unfairly.