Paula Johnson, co-director of an academic group that reviews unsolved civil rights slayings, said she can’t think of anything other than Tyson’s book that could have prompted the Justice Department to reopen the Till investigation.
“We’re happy to have that be the case so that ultimately or finally someone can be held responsible for his murder,” said Johnson, who leads the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the status of the probe.
Watts, Till’s cousin and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said it’s “wonderful” that the killing is getting another look, but didn’t want to discuss details.
“None of us wants to do anything that jeopardizes any investigation or impedes, but we are also very interested in justice being done,” she said.
Abducted from the home where he was staying, Till was beaten and shot, and his mutilated body was found weighted down with a cotton gin fan in the Tallahatchie River. Images of his mutilated body in the casket gave witness to the depth of racial hatred in the Deep South and helped build momentum for subsequent civil rights campaigns.
Relatives of Till pushed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reopen the case last year following publication of the book.
Donham, then known as Carolyn Bryant and 21 years old at the time, testified in 1955 as a prospective defense witness in the trial of Bryant and Milam.
In the book, author Tyson wrote that Donham told him her testimony about Till accosting her wasn’t true.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” the book quotes her as saying.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., introduced legislation this week that would make the government release information about unsolved civil rights killings. In an interview, Jones said the Till killing or any other case likely wouldn’t be covered by this legislation if authorities were actively investigating.
“You’d have to leave it to the judgment of some of law enforcement agencies that are involved or the commission that would be created” to consider materials for release, Jones said.