Emmett Louis Till died from a lynching in the Mississippi Delta 66 years ago tomorrow, on Aug. 28, 1955. Emmett was a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was visiting his family in Money, Miss., during the summer of 1955 when he allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant Donham—a white woman.
Bryant Donham, now 85 and living in North Carolina, has since confessed that she lied about Till’s actions, according to Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar. In his book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” Tyson quotes from his interview with the then-72-year-old woman in 2007. In it, he writes, Bryant Donham said she made up the part about the boy’s advances. He quoted her exact words to him: “That part’s not true.”
In America, there have been events that have raised awareness within our society. These events would later bring about a change that directed or redirected the course of history in our society. 1955 was a very important year in American history. Emmett’s mother Mamie Till Mobley made a bold step by having an open-casket funeral to show the world what happened to her son in Mississippi with Jet Magazine then running the horrifying photos.
The kidnapping, torture and murder of Emmett Louis Till changed the course of American history. Many historians believe this painful, ridiculous act sparked the Civil Rights Movement.
I am reminded of another dark day in American history like Emmett Till’s death. George Floyd Jr. was murdered May 25, 2020, by a police officer during an arrest after a store clerk suspected he may have used a fake $20 bill. The world watched him say “I can’t breathe” as witnesses recorded the murder at the knee of an evil police system connected to racism.
Many of us celebrated the guilty verdict that was returned in the case of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd. We breathed a sigh of relief to know that, at least, the American justice system wasn’t willing to absolve a police officer who was shown on camera choking the life out of a Black man. That gave us a little hope—to know that if we have our cameras on, then perhaps police officers will exercise restraint because of the precedent that Chauvin’s conviction set.
Sixty-six years later, the fight for justice in Emmett Louis Till’s case continues and remains unsolved. Will there ever be justice? The U.S. Department of Justice announced in July 2018 that they were reopening the investigation into the murder due to new information received. It’s been years since this announcement, and the Justice Department has been silent.
This silence reminds me of many lawmakers who refuse to call out racism and demand we unite as a country. This dark spot in our history is painful enough, but to have our lawmakers and Justice Department silent on this is even more painful.
Hate crimes against Black people should be talked about 24/7, 365 days of the year. It should be the lead-in story on every news station. We must shine a light on the grave injustices that have been done to Black Americans. We need to finally seek healing for the 400 years of slavery that we’ve endured, which was America’s original sin.
This isn’t a political issue. This is an issue of humanity. We cannot continue to let racism grow and infect America like a disease, leading to a tattered and broken country that is weakened because of its attacks on its citizens.
On Feb. 27, 2020, Congress passed legislation making lynching a federal hate crime. Congress has been working since the early 1990s to get the bill passed nearly 200 times. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act was passed with a bipartisan vote of 410 to 4 in the U.S. House of Representatives; however, the Senate has yet to pass this legislation in honor of Emmett Till’s legacy.
America still has a lot of blood on its hands. For true healing and racial reconciliation, we must pass the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act and receive a decision from the Department of Justice. Justice for Emmett Till and many families who have civil-rights cases pending at the DOJ is not a Black issue.
This fight for justice transcends race. It’s a call for us to show the world through action that no one is above the law and justice is for all in America. No longer can we remain silent.
As I stated many times before, Emmett’s mother Mamie Till Mobley wanted the world to see what happened to her son, and we want the world to never forget it. We demand the Department of Justice render a decision bringing justice to this civil-rights case that changed the world forever.
I encourage you to write to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice. Tell them now is the time to render a decision to investigate the killing of Emmett Louis Till.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.