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Senate Unanimously Moves to Honor 14-Year-Old Emmett Till, Murdered by White Supremacists, and His Mother

01-13-2022
emmetttill
This undated file photo shows Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago boy, whose body was found in the Tallahatchie River near the Delta community of Money, Miss., on Aug. 31, 1955. (AP Photo, File)

The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a measure to award the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Emmett Till, the Chicago teenager murdered by white supremacists in the 1950s, and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who insisted on an open casket funeral to demonstrate the brutality of his killing.

In 1955, Till, who was then just 14, was abducted, tortured, and killed after witnesses accused him of whistling at a white woman at a grocery store in rural Mississippi, a violation of the South's racist societal codes at the time. 

In response, he was rousted from bed and abducted from a great-uncle's home in the predawn hours four days later. His brutally beaten body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. 

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The killing galvanized the Civil Rights movement after Till's mother insisted on an open casket and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalized body.

Fight for Justice

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced the bill to honor Till and his mother with the highest civilian honor that Congress awards. They described the legislation as a long-overdue recognition of what the Till family endured and what they accomplished in their fight against injustice.

"At the age of 14, Emmett Till was abducted and lynched at the hands of white supremacists. His gruesome murder still serves as a solemn reminder of the terror and violence experienced by Black Americans throughout our nation's history," Booker said in a statement. "The courage and activism demonstrated by Emmett's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in displaying to the world the brutality endured by her son helped awaken the nation's conscience, forcing America to reckon with its failure to address racism and the glaring injustices that stem from such hatred."

"More than six decades after his murder, I am proud to see the Senate pass long-overdue legislation that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to both Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobley in recognition of their profound contributions to our nation," he continued.

The House version of the legislation is sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL). He also has sponsored a bill to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Mamie Till-Mobley.

Accused Murderers Were Tried and Acquitted, but Later Confessed

State officials charged Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam with murder. They were later tried and acquitted by an all-white jury.  
During the trial, the woman at the store testified under oath, but not in front of the jury, that Till had propositioned her and physically touched her hand, arm and waist while they were both inside the store.

Following their acquittals, both Bryant and Milam later confessed to kidnapping and murdering Till in an account published in Look Magazine in January 1956.

Dept. of Justice Closed Follow-up Investigation of Till's Murder in Dec. 2021

Last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) closed its four-year investigation into a witness's alleged recantation of her account of the events leading up to Till's murder. 

"In early 2017, new information emerged suggesting that the woman may have confessed to a professor, who later wrote a book about Till's murder, that the account she provided to the state court in 1955 was untrue," a DOJ press release said. "Specifically, the professor asserted that, during a 2008 interview with the woman, she handed him a transcript of her sworn 1955 testimony and said, '(T)hat part's not true.' If credible, the professor's assertion suggests that the woman lied in state court and confessed to having done so."

"The alleged recantation raised questions about whether the woman would be willing to acknowledge to federal authorities that her prior versions of events had been untruthful and whether she now would provide new and accurate information relating to the abduction and murder of Till," the release continued. "The woman, however, when asked about the alleged recantation, denied to the FBI that she ever recanted her testimony and provided no information beyond what was uncovered during the previous federal investigation. Although lying to the FBI is a federal offense, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied to the FBI when she denied having recanted to the professor."

"There is insufficient evidence to prove that she ever told the professor that any part of her testimony was untrue," the department explained. "Although the professor represented that he had recorded two interviews with her, he provided the FBI with only one recording, which did not contain any recantation. In addition, although an assistant transcribed the two recordings, neither transcript contained the alleged recantation. The professor also provided inconsistent explanations about whether the missing recording included the alleged recantation or whether, instead, the woman made the key admission before he began recording the interview."

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