- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

FBI investigates

1955 death of

black teenager


CHICAGO — The FBI yesterday exhumed the body of a black teenager killed in a Mississippi lynching 50 years ago, hoping to shed light on an unsolved crime that symbolized the raw history of race relations in America.

A burial vault with a casket containing the body of Emmett Till was unearthed with the help of a backhoe beneath a white tent over his grave site. Family members held a brief prayer service there beforehand inside a quiet suburban cemetery near Chicago.

In the summer of 1955, Emmett was 14 and living in Chicago when he visited relatives in Mississippi, then the heart of the segregated South. He purportedly whistled at and talked to a white woman in a store, for which he was kidnapped and killed.

His battered body turned up in the Tallahatchie River near Money, Miss., weighed down by a cotton gin fan tied with barbed wire to his neck. He appeared to have been tortured and shot.

Two white men, one of them married to the woman with whom Emmett purportedly flirted, were charged with his killing but acquitted by an all-white Mississippi jury.

The men later described in a magazine interview how they had beaten Emmett but the two could not be tried again because they had been acquitted.

Both now are dead but a recent documentary, ?The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,? by New York filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, turned up witnesses to the crime who indicated several people were involved.

The FBI is looking for evidence to see if it is possible to still bring charges at the state level. It was not clear, however, what the exhumation would accomplish beyond proving that the body is that of Emmett, and some experts have said it was likely to yield little else. No autopsy was ever performed.

In announcing its investigation a year ago, the Justice Department said it had received new information and wanted to determine if any prosecutions were still possible in Mississippi.

At the time one official called the case a ?grotesque miscarriage of justice? that still ?stands at the crossroads of the American civil rights movement.?

Emmett’s burial vault was placed on a flatbed truck, covered with a blue tarp, and hauled away to the Cook County morgue for an examination.

After his death the teen’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, ordered her son’s disfigured face displayed in an open coffin in Chicago. She died in 2003 and was buried next to her son.

His body was viewed by tens of thousands of people and photographs carried the horrors of lynchings in the South to millions.

His death and a subsequent bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., triggered by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat, together helped spur the civil rights movement.

The Chicago Historical Society, which is opening an exhibit on lynchings in America, said experts have been unable to determine how many hate crime-related deaths occurred in the country’s history but they are believed to number ?in the thousands.?

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