Local community reacts to reopening of 1955 lynching investigation

Emmett Till with his mother.

The federal government has reopened its investigation into the murder of Emmett Till. He's the black teenager brutally killed in Mississippi in 1955 – a moment that was a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Justice Department says it received new information. A report sent to Congress doesn't indicate what that new information might be, but local community leaders says this is a chance for the truth to come out.

Lynn Coleman of South Bend says he was only a baby when Emmett Till was murdered in 1955.

He says growing up during the Civil Rights Movement, he remembers hearing stories of lynching. Till's murder was one that always stuck with him.

"That's always been one that was a sore spot,” said Coleman. “Not that the other ones weren't, but that one particularly. Because I think of his age only being 14 at the time."

A federal official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that information published in a book led federal investigators to re-examine the case.

The book "The Blood of Emmett Till" by Timothy B. Tyson quotes a white woman, Carolyn Donham, as saying during a 2008 interview that she wasn't truthful when she testified that the black teen grabbed her, whistled and made sexual advances at a Mississippi store in 1955.

At the center of the trial were two white men, Donham's then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, who were charged with murder but acquitted.

The men later confessed to the crime in a magazine interview, but were never retried.

"I think that the statute of limitations for justice should never end,” said Darryl Heller, South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center director.

Heller says the case resonates with people today. He says we as a society have come a long way, but in some the lives of young black men are still in jeopardy.

"We as a society have to reckon with the ways we tolerate injustice against a major sect of our population, simply because of the color of their skin,” said Heller.

Coleman adds reopening the case of Till's lynching won't bring him back, but it gives us the opportunity to right history.

"Hopefully now we can bring some closure to it, but not just for us, for his family, and for a country that has had to carry this burden for 60 years now. It's time to put it to bed."

WSBT 22 spoke to Airickca Gordon-Taylor, a cousin of Emmett Till. She says news of the investigation is not surprising. She says the family has no further comment, but they appreciate everyone's love and support.

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