Emmett Till Relatives Divided over Exhuming His Body
By: Karen E. Pride
Originally posted 5/10/2005
CHICAGO (NNPA) – A majority of Emmett Till's family members say that they object to plans by the Justice Department to exhume his body in order to find clues to solve his brutal murder 50 years ago.
Speaking at a news conference at Rainbow/PUSH headquarters, Bertha Thomas, a cousin and president of the Emmett Till Foundation, said she saw no point in disturbing her cousin's remains so forensic pathologists could look for the true cause of death.
''They had over 40 years to do this,'' she said. ''My question to the FBI, the Department of Justice and anyone else involved in this is, why now? I understand Mr. Beauchamp wants his film out there, but I refuse to let him or anybody else use Mamie or Emmett in any way to gain notoriety.''
Kenneth Beauchamp is the director of the documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, which details new information in the death of Till on Aug. 28, 1955.
The Justice Department and the FBI are planning to re-open the case, beginning with an exhumation of Till's body. But Thomas said Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, never asked for an autopsy prior to her death in 2003.
''She was a quiet soul and was not vindictive. She just wanted an apology from the state of Mississippi before she died,'' Thomas said.
Thomas and some family members are at odds about whether the exhumation is necessary and what it would reveal.
''Simeon Wright and Wheeler Parker were with Emmett when he was taken, and they feel there should be an autopsy,'' she said. ''But they're the only ones, to my knowledge, who feel this way. My uncle, who's the executor of Mamie's estate, disagrees with them, too.''
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. said the FBI is using Till's case for their own personal gain.
''Is the FBI and the Department of Justice making a renewed effort to racial justice?'' he asked. ''Or is it using Emmett Till as a trophy, 50 years after a brutal act of terror? It's a poor excuse for justice.''
Thomas said that she and other family members heard about the FBI's plan through news outlets. ''I've expressed my displeasure about that,'' she said. ''No one from the FBI has contacted me. Why should I contact them about something I strongly disagree about?''
Till was 14-years-old when he left his home on Chicago's South Side to visit relatives in Mississippi on Aug. 21, 1955. His mother advised him about how to behave when interacting with white people because race relations there were a lot different than in Chicago.
On August 24, Till and his cousin, Curtis Jones, went into the small town of Money, and stopped at Bryant's Grocery store to buy some candy. Some local boys dared Till to speak to Carolyn Bryant, the White store clerk. He allegedly whistled at the woman when he left the store.
Four days later, Till's body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River, weighted down by a cotton gin fan tied around Till's neck with barbed wire. Two men, storeowner Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, were charged and acquitted of the murder.
They bragged about the crime three months later in a Look magazine article.
''The state (of Mississippi) and the FBI allowed sanctuaries for these racial terrorists and other who helped kill Emmett Till,'' Jackson said. ''We want to know who these people are. We do not want a grandstanding event on the remains of Emmett Till.''
Family members aren't the only ones objecting to the FBI's plans to exhume the body at the end of this month.
A dozen Englewood community members established the Emmett Till Commemoration Initiative in October to organize activities for the 50th anniversary of Till's Aug. 28 kidnapping and murder.
Initiative chair John Paul Jones told the Defender his group would discuss filing a temporary restraining order against the exhumation.
''We don't want it stopped totally,'' he said. ''But until we want more jurisdictional oversight because Mississippi is making the request. We need Chicago and Cook County officials to be involved.''
Jones said the initiative is planning several activities and events for the weekend of Till's death, such as a parade in Englewood on the weekend of Aug. 27.
''We spoke with Sen. Barack Obama's office last week about having him as the parade's honorary chairman,'' he said. ''And we've talked with Rep. Bobby Rush about a commemorative postal stamp.''
Initiative members have not been in contact with the family but Thomas is aware of the group's plans, said Jones.
''We have to be frank about the impact of this investigation. It re-opens a lot of wounds,'' Jones said. ''We see this (exhumation) as a stall tactic. We don't think it will bring any new evidence. Mississippi officials should do what's right by interviewing the people who know about Till's murder and redress the past inequity of this case.''
(Material from afroamhistory.about.com was used in this article.)