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Justice Department To Reopen 50-Year Old Racist Murder Case

By Eric Lichtblau

and Andrew Jacobs

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Nearly a half-century after the brutal killing of a 14-year-old black youth in Mississippi became a flashpoint in the civil rights movement, the Justice Department said Monday that it was opening a criminal investigation into the case of Emmett Till in light of new evidence.

In a surprise announcement, prosecutors said information uncovered in the filming of two documentaries on the 1955 killing suggested that people besides the two original suspects may have been involved.

“We owe it to Emmett Till, we owe it to his mother and to his family, and we owe it to ourselves to see if, after all these years, any additional measure of justice is still possible,” said R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Black leaders consider the killing one of the last unsolved murders of the early civil rights era, and a campaign has been building for months to push federal officials to examine the case. The new information gathered by the filmmakers suggests that as many as 10 people took part in or observed the killing.

The re-examination of the case is a bittersweet victory for civil rights advocates. “I am glad the case is being reopened, but it is sad that it has taken so long,” said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Emmett Till of Chicago was visiting relatives in Money, Miss., that August in 1955, when he was dragged from his bed, beaten, shot and dropped in the Tallahatchie River after he supposedly whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in her family’s store.

The image of Emmett’s battered body in an open casket at his funeral in Chicago became a galvanizing moment in the civil rights movement, particularly for many northerners removed from the brutalities of the Jim Crow era.