The FBI told the family of Emmett Till on Tuesday that it has not uncovered sufficient evidence to support a federal prosecution of any living person, including Carolyn Bryant, the white storekeeper who accused the Black teenager of harassment before his 1955 murder, a brutal killing that became a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

The FBI had reopened its investigation after the publication of “The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy Tyson in 2017. In his book, Tyson wrote that Bryant recanted key parts of her accusations against Till, claims which ultimately led to the Chicago teen’s murder in Mississippi at the hands of her husband and another relative.

Till and Till-Mobley
Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, are seen in a photo from the 1950s. (Library of Congress photo)

For the last four years, Christopher Benson, co-author with Till’s mother, the late Mamie Till-Mobley, of the book “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America,” the Rev. Wheeler Parker, Till’s cousin and best friend who was in the home the night Till was kidnapped and Thelma Wright Edwards, a cousin of Till who was in the bedroom with him the night of his abduction, have been working with the FBI since the case was relaunched.

Benson, an Assistant Professor of Journalism at Northwestern University, relayed the FBI’s findings, as shared with Parker, to a crowd of reporters Tuesday afternoon at a news conference on Northwestern’s Chicago campus.

Benson said the FBI investigated whether Bryant, now 86 and using a new married name, had recanted by thoroughly reviewing new evidence and examining evidence from the earlier investigation as well. The FBI reexamination was conducted by FBI special agents, assistant U.S. attorneys, the local Mississippi district attorney’s office, and experienced cold case attorneys in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

“One, there was no credible evidence that Carolyn Bryant Donham said what Tyson reported in his book, no credible evidence that would have been held up in court if they had tried to indict her on perjury for making false statements to the federal government when she was interviewed on this,” Benson said. “There was also no credible evidence, according to our discussion with the authorities, that anything that Carol Bryant Donham ever said about Emmett Till in that store is true. So these are things that help us in moving forward, as you heard, with a family that is in pursuit of the truth.” 

After Benson announced the FBI results, Parker spoke first, saying that officially, after 66 years, the Emmett TIll case has been closed.

“They kidnapped him when I was 16 years old,” Parker said. “I remember reading how they demonized him … to make it seem like [he’s] getting what [he] deserved. I will always live with that. I just couldn’t understand how you could treat a person like that, especially in the South, in the religious belt.”

Through Till’s death, Parker said, “we can see how far we’ve come and the work we still have to do.” 

Ollie Gordon, Till’s cousin and Till-Mobley’s goddaughter, spoke next, saying that the outcome didn’t surprise her, and she did not expect that the FBI would have been able to validate Bryant Donham’s alleged recanting of her story. “Even though we don’t feel that we got justice, we still must move forward,” Gordon said.

Next spoke Till’s cousin Thelma Wright Edwards, who also said she wasn’t surprised, but was still heartbroken. “When I was 8 years old, I put diapers on Emmett, I lived with him, he was like a brother to me. And as my nephew said, I have no hate in my heart. But I had hoped that we could get an apology. But that didn’t happen. And nothing was settled. The case is closed, and we have to go on from here.”

Benson and members of the Till family have recently announced the creation of the Emmett TIll and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute at Northwestern, dedicated to carrying out the family’s decades-long mission to preserve Till’s legacy and the truth of his story.

The last person to speak was Dr. Marvel Parker, executive director of the institute and the Rev. Parker’s wife. In her remarks, she quoted from a December 2002 speech from Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003.

“We’re disappointed that no one has paid for the tragic, brutal murder of a 14-year-old boy for whistling at a white woman,” she said. “But there’s no hatred in our hearts either. Because we believe what the Lord said to Mamie, ‘Vengeance is mine.’ He is the righteous judge. And as my husband always says, hate destroys the hater.

“Our goal is to continue to promote the legacy of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley through positive activism, promoting cultural awareness and education. Thank you.”

Avatar photo

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at

One reply on “Family’s response as FBI closes Emmett Till case: ‘Even though we don’t feel that we got justice, we still must move forward’”

  1. If there is no credible evidence to support that what Bryant said was true then there is a viable case for a perjury indictment and society owes it to Till, his family and history to bring such an indictment

Comments are closed.