Congressman Bobby Rush

Representing the 1st District of Illinois

Rush Calls on U.S. Attorney General Sessions to Reopen the Emmett Till Murder Case in Light of New Information

Feb 14, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON — In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) today asked the U.S. Justice Department to reopen the Emmett Till murder case in light of new information which suggests a witness may have provided false testimony to federal authorities. The trial and subsequent acquittal of the perpetrators by an all-white jury in 1955, led to national outrage and led to Rosa Parks’ defiant stance against racial injustice in December of the same year sparking the Civil Rights Movement. The youth was accused of “whistling at a white woman.”

On August 28, 1955, Till was kidnapped, tortured, shot, mutilated and weighted down with a cotton gin fan before being tossed in the Tallahatchie River in Money, Mississippi. The elementary school-aged youth had been on summer break visiting relatives when he was murdered.

Now, an author claims the still-living Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman at the center of the crime, admitted in 2007 that she made up the story about the boy’s actions, raising questions about whether the outcome would have been the same had she not fabricated parts or all of her sworn testimony. In his correspondence to the Attorney General, the Congressman wrote:

“As you may know, I have long expressed an interest in the circumstances surrounding the murder of Emmett Till. My interest is not only personal but also because Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till, was a longtime resident of my district which also serves as Emmett’s final resting place.

“…I understand that in 2007, the Department of Justice determined that this case did not warrant federal prosecution due to the statute of limitations on any potential federal crimes. Recent developments, however, lead me to believe that a reevaluation of that decision is warranted. History tells us that in 1955, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted by an all-white jury of Emmett’s murder. This acquittal was largely based on testimony given by Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, who had accused Emmett of whistling at, grabbing, and threatening her. What history does not tell us — and what has only recently come to light — is evidence that, in 2007, Carolyn Bryant Donham ‘confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony.’ In fact, when speaking of her earlier allegations that Emmett ‘had made verbal and physical advances on her,’ she is specifically quoted as saying ‘That part’s not true.’

“This revelation, I believe, merits a reevaluation of the Justice Department’s 2007 decision. At minimum, it is possible that false statements were made during the FBI’s investigation leading up to this report. Additionally, at a basic human level and in the interest of justice and historical integrity, society cannot allow such an egregious lie to go unpunished; especially when this lie led to the gruesome and horrific murder of a child. As Carolyn Bryant Donham herself said, ‘Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.’

“For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to reevaluate the potential for federal prosecution of any applicable crimes in this case. … As Mamie is reported to have said in 2015, ‘I hope he didn’t die in vain.’ I wholeheartedly share this sentiment and I thank you for your attention to this matter.”

A copy of the letter is below.