Body of Emmett Till to Be Exhumed

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The Emmett Till Case

See a trailer from a documentary about Till's murder, a timeline of the case and more stories.

The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 shocked the nation and galvanized the civil rights movement. The two men accused of killing Till were acquitted and have since died. But federal authorities believe there may be more to learn about the crime and plan to exhume his body within weeks.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Nearly 50 years ago when the mutilated and bloated body of a 14-year-old Chicago boy was put on public display during his funeral, it shocked the nation. Emmett Till's murder galvanized the civil rights movement. The two white men accused of killing the black teen-ager down in Mississippi, were acquitted and since have died, but federal authorities say there may be more to know. They will exhume Till's body within a few weeks. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

The grave sites of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, are perhaps the most famous at Burr Oak Cemetery. The memorial for Emmett Till's mother reads, `Her pain united a nation.' Mamie Mobley was buried here two years ago, her son nearly 50 years ago. And his body will be exhumed and it will be put on display, not for the public this time as it was nearly 50 years ago, but for medical examiners. Joyce Chiles is the Mississippi district attorney who would try any new case related to the Till murder.

Ms. JOYCE CHILES (Mississippi District Attorney): During the original trial in 1955, there was no forensic scientific evidence.

CORLEY: In the summer of 1955, the Chicago teen-ager was visiting relatives in the small town of Money, Mississippi. Accused of whistling at a white woman, Till was taken at gunpoint from his uncle's farmhouse, beaten and killed.

Ms. CHILES: This is a homicide investigation of the FBI, in conjunction with the Department of Justice and the district attorney's office, opened last year, and by it being a homicide investigation, it is just the natural order of things that an autopsy be done.

(Soundbite of "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till")

Ms. MAMIE TILL MOBLEY (Emmett Till's Mother): Emmett was born the 25th of July, 1941.

CORLEY: The voice of Emmett Till's mother opens the documentary, "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till." The film, which was shown to prosecutors last year, details Till's death and the trial of the two white men accused of killing him. In August of 1955, the teen-ager's decaying body was found in a river. A cotton gin fan was tied to his neck with barbed wire. An all-white jury acquitted the men. However, the film suggests a number of people were involved in the gruesome murder, and several people still alive could provide information. Congressman Bobby Rush, who has introduced resolutions calling for a more thorough investigation, says for years, no action was taken, even after the former suspects later boasted in a magazine article about killing Till.

Representative BOBBY RUSH (Illinois): The case wasn't reopened. The federal government turned a deaf ear to what was going occurring.

CORLEY: But now, nearly a half a century later, authorities are paying attention. Prosecutor Chiles says the inaction on the part of officials in the 1950s may have been a sign of the times.

Ms. CHILES: The exhumation is being done now, and it is also a sign of the times.

CORLEY: The Cook County medical examiner's office in Chicago will conduct the autopsy. Officials there say they would not be doing the procedure if they didn't think there was an opportunity to learn some important facts. Emmett Till's cousin, Simeon Wright, spoke to NPR shortly after the case was reopened. He says all he is looking for is justice.

Mr. SIMEON WRIGHT (Emmett Till's Cousin): If we can get an indictment, that would be a tremendous help. It would actually close the wound, because it was left open in 1955.

CORLEY: And Wright, who was in the room when Emmett Till was kidnapped nearly 50 years ago, says it's never too late for justice. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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