A grand jury declined to issue an indictment in the 1955 slaying of black Chicago teenager Emmett Till, who was kidnapped from his uncle’s home in the Mississippi Delta and shot to death after whistling at a white woman.
The grand jury in Leflore County wrapped up its work this past week and issued a “no bill” against Carolyn Bryant, the widow of one of two white men originally acquitted of Till’s death. A “no bill” means the grand jury found insufficient evidence existed for an indictment on a criminal charge.
Documents made public Tuesday show prosecutors sought a manslaughter charge.
Till was kidnapped from the Leflore County town of Money in 1955. Three days later, the 14-year-old’s mutilated body was found in the Tallahatchie River.
Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant’s husband, and his half brother, J.W. Milam, were acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury. The two men later confessed in an interview with Look magazine. Till had been accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, and some witnesses have said a woman’s voice could be heard at the scene of the abduction.
The FBI reopened the case in 2004 but decided in 2006 not to press charges.
The case was turned over to local prosecutors for possible state charges. The FBI’s report had suggested prosecutors take a closer look at Carolyn Bryant.
Carolyn Bryant was among 12 people facing various charges that the grand jury declined to indict. Bryant, now 72, has declined interviews.
District Attorney Joyce Chiles was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Simeon Wright, 64, who was in the store that day with Emmett and heard the infamous wolf-whistle, got the news from the FBI shortly before heading to the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ near Chicago for his regular Tuesday morning prayers.
For some in state, no surprise
He said the grand jury’s failure to return an indictment did not surprise him.
“You’re looking at Mississippi,” he told The Associated Press. “I guess it’s about the same way it was 50 years ago. We had overwhelming evidence, and they came back with the same decision. Some of the people haven’t changed from 50 years ago. Same attitude. The evidence speaks for itself.”
Wright, who left Mississippi for Chicago in the killing’s wake, said this decision does not bring his family closure.
“The grand jury looked into the mirror, and they blinked,” he said. “They didn’t like what they was looking at apparently. We gave it a good shot, but it didn’t pan out. We tried. I don’t know how many years I have left on this Earth. We can leave this world and say, ‘Hey, we tried. We tried to get some justice in this, and we failed.”
He said the family succeeded in one thing. “The memory and legacy of Emmett Till is still alive,” Wright said. “People are still horrified about what happened 50 years ago in Money, Miss.”
Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003, had her son’s body returned to Chicago for an open-casket funeral. Thousands turned out for the service and a photograph of Till’s disfigured face in Jet Magazine let the world see what was happening in the South.