FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 13, 2004
Schumer And Rangel Launch New Campaign To Force Us Justice Department To Reopen Investigation Into 1955 Murder Of Emmett Till
Emmett Till was the 14-year-old black youth from Chicago abducted and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white female store clerk; Outrage after an all-white jury found the accused white men innocent spurred the Civil Rights movement
A documentary film-maker from New York City uncovered new evidence about the case including never-before-heard first-hand eye
Senator, Dean of New York House Delegation to join film-maker and former Federal prosecutor introduce Congressional Resolution urging AG Ashcroft to re-open the case, provide real resources for new investigation, and report findings to Congress
US Senator Charles E. Schumer and US Representative Charles B. Rangel – the Dean of the New York Congressional delegation unveiled a new Congressional Resolution today that would compel US Attorney General John Ashcroft and the US Justice Department to re-open the investigation of Emmett Till's murder, based on new evidence uncovered by a New York City documentary film maker. Emmett Till was the 14-year-old black youth from Chicago who was abducted, brutally beaten, and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after he supposedly whistled at a white female store clerk. The outrage that resulted from an all-white jury finding the accused 2 white men innocent of the brutal crime was a key catalyst launching the Civil Rights movement in the United States.
"The murder of Emmett Till was one of the seminal moments in our nation’s civil rights movement and the failure to bring his murderers to justice remains a stain on America’s record of reconciliation," Schumer said. "Today, I call on Attorney General Ashcroft to fulfill the promise he made at his confirmation hearings to fully enforce America’s civil rights laws. In this rare instance, justice delayed may not be justice denied."
In August of 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year old Chicago youth visiting family in Mississippi and unfamiliar with the racial customs of the South, allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman in her family's store. On August 28, at about 2:30AM, Roy Bryant, Mrs. Bryant’s husband, and his half brother, J.W. Milam kidnaped Emmett Till from his uncle’s home. Three days later, Till’s decomposed body was discovered and pulled from the Tallahatchie River. The body had a fan blade tied to it with barbed wire.
His murder was never formally investigated. Photographs of the body were widely published and Mrs. Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett Till's mother, insisted on having an open casket funeral for her young son to expose the results of racism for the world to see.
After Milam and Bryant were acquitted of the murder of Emmett Till, Bryant celebrated his acquittal with his wife in front of news cameras. Protected from further prosecution, Milam and Bryant confessed their torture and murder of Emmett Till to Look Magazine for $4,000. Mrs. Till and thousands of others pleaded with the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to reopen and investigate the case, but these Federal agencies did nothing. President Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refused to reopen the case and did not even answer Mrs. Till's urgent telegraph seeking help. The brutality of the crime and its aftermath made international news and began the civil rights movement. One hundred days later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white patron.
Keith A. Beachamp – a documentary film maker from Fort. Greene, Brooklyn – found new evidence about the case, including never-before- heard eyewitness accounts while making "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till." In February, Federal authorities in Mississippi forwarded new information about Till's death to the Justice Department's civil rights division, including statements from new witnesses interviewed by Mr. Beauchamp in his documentary. Mr. Beauchamp's work over nine years indicates that in addition to the two white men originally charged and acquitted in the case, up to seven more individuals were involved actively or passively in Emmett Till's abduction, murder or both. Several of these people are still alive today.
Schumer and Rangel today announced they are backing a Congressional Resolution in the Senate and House that calls on the Department of Justice to investigate the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and the acquittal of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. It also calls on the Department of Justice to report to Congress on the findings of the investigation. While not legally binding on the Executive Branch, such sense-of-the-Congress resolutions historically have raised the profile of important issues and spurred the government to action.
"As a nation, we should never be afraid to acknowledge our mistakes – however difficult – so that we can learn from them. The truth, as they say, will set you free. It's no less true in the case of Emmett Till from 50 years ago than it is today, and I am confident that when this resolution passes, we'll get the help we need to find out the truth about this pivotal moment in American history," Schumer said.
Schumer, Rangel and Beauchamp were joined today by Kenneth P. Thompson, a former Federal Prosecutor from New York best known for his work in the Abner Louima case, who has helped Mr. Beauchamp publicize his findings and push the government to reopen the case.