Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till Mobley Photo: Library of Congress

“For this reason We prescribed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a person, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he had killed all men. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the lives of all men.” Holy Qur’an, Chapter 5, Verse 32

The murder of Emmett Till stands as one of the defining moments in American history. He was brutally beaten, tortured, shot and tossed off of a Mississippi bridge, wires around his neck connected to a cotton gin fan, as his body plunged into the Tallahatchie River. His murder sparked the modern civil rights movement after his courageous mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, allowed the disfigured face and body of her son to be displayed in an open casket.

“Here we are, 66 years later, and there still hasn’t been any justice for our cousin Emmett Till, a Black boy who was just 14 years old when he was dragged out of bed, kidnapped, brutally tortured, lynched, killed, and dumped into a river by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam during a racially motivated hate crime. Bryant and Milam were tried before an all-White, all-male jury in 1955, where they were unsurprisingly acquitted of all charges,” said Till family members in a MoveOn.org petition.

“They eventually confessed to kidnapping and killing Emmett, but due to double jeopardy protections in our justice system, they weren’t charged or convicted for these heinous crimes. The pain is still raw for our family, but our push for justice is not over.


Carolyn Bryant Donham is the only known surviving accomplice and she has yet to be charged for her role in the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. Our family urgently needs your help because we are not giving up. Together, we can keep fighting to ensure that she is brought to justice,” said the petition distributed Jan. 21.

“Emmett’s murder case was reactivated by the United States Department of Justice in 2017 when the only known accomplice, Carolyn Bryant Donham, appeared to admit that she lied to her husband Roy Bryant (one of Emmett’s killers), and during Emmett’s murder trial, by falsely claiming that Emmett made sexual advances and physically touched her. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that they closed their investigation into his death.

We were hopeful that the DOJ decision to shut down their investigation would have been different, but the work doesn’t end and stop here. We need to keep the pressure going. Emmett Till’s case still remains open in Mississippi, where Attorney General Lynn Fitch and W. Dewayne Richardson, district attorney for the 4th Circuit Court District, can decide to move the case forward by charging and indicting any known accomplices, including Carolyn Bryant Donham,” said the petition.

Ms. Donham was working in a store in Money, Miss. Emmett, with cousins he was visiting in Mississippi, entered to buy cold drinks. Later that night Emmett was kidnapped and killed.

The story has been brought to life in the “Women of the Movement” mini-series now streaming on Hulu. Among its producers are Whoopi Goldberg and megastar Will Smith. With the airing of the story has come a renewed call for justice and a call President Biden must support.

An initial petition also called for, “An official apology to the Till Family from the Federal Government, Department of Justice, the State of Mississippi and local law enforcement for the human rights violation, wrongful death, kidnapping and lynching of Emmett Louis Till, and for the miscarriage and obstruction of justice in the 1955 trial.”

“The past is not past. The specter of this devastating crime remains ever-present through modern day racially motivated murders. The burdens borne by families such as Emmett’s (Thelma Wright Edwards and Deborah Watts), George Floyd’s (Philonise and LaTonya Floyd) Ahmaud Arbery’s (Wanda Cooper Jones and Marcus Arbery Sr.),

Trayvon Martin’s (Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin), Jordan Davis’ (Lucy McBath and Ron Davis), Eric Garner’s (Gwen Carr), Breonna Taylor’s (Tamika Palmer) and many others force them to speak up loudly, demand justice and take action when others won’t,” said the petition put forward by the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

Why is it so difficult to even pursue charges when a Black life is lost? Mr. Biden, you are president at a time of increased racial hostility and growing denial about the reality of America’s racial history. This isn’t time to give speeches or token gestures, you and Vice-President Kamala Harris must speak out and support action at the state level.

Nothing will bring back Emmett Till, but America can and should atone for the evils done to Black people. Atonement, in a small but significant way given the millions of Black lives unjustly taken from the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, is good for this country. It’s not doing Black folk a favor.

Relatives have publicly denied that Ms. Donham changed her story and the Justice Dept. contended in December there is “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied to the FBI.” In 2017, Timothy B. Tyson, an historian and author of “The Blood of Emmett Till,” included the new account in his book.

It’s ironic that a federal law, “The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act,” includes a requirement that an annual report about civil rights cold cases be given to Congress by the Justice Dept., but there is no justice for Emmett Till.

And it’s beyond insulting that the Senate in early January passed a measure to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal to Emmett Till and his mother. Such acts don’t bring honor, they simply show us the level of mockery we endure under a vicious enemy. Such gestures will never bring about improved race relations, if that is even possible. When those who were in any way involved with the slaughter of Jews during World War II are found, they are investigated, deported and tried in Israel.

Anyone who takes a life unjustly should be tried and punished. Are we going to demand anything less? Mr. President, are you any better than your predecessors and the fathers of this country? Remember, any measure of justice you support is good for you as Allah (God) is judging your country for its evil. And, as Thomas Jefferson warned, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”