X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The meeting in May of two young black men from Brooklyn has begun at last a process of full disclosure behind a 1955 Mississippi murder and the sham trial that followed — a travesty of justice that launched the civil rights movement. For attorney Kenneth P. Thompson, 37, a partner in the year-old firm Thompson, Wigdor & Gilly, success in helping filmmaker and social activist Keith Beauchamp, 33, reopen a Justice Department investigation into the grisly slaying of 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till is personally and professionally gratifying. “This is a vindication for the Department of Justice,” said Thompson, a former Eastern District assistant U.S. attorney. “They had the ability back in 1955 to reopen the Emmett Till case, but J. Edgar Hoover and President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower refused to make it happen.” With reference to his partners, Douglas H. Wigdor, 35, and Scott B. Gilly, 36, Thompson added, “It’s taken a new generation of lawyers to do the right thing.” The right thing, by Beauchamp’s lights, was to stir the powers of Congress to pressure the Justice Department into helping a new generation of Mississippi prosecutors go after the accomplices of the two white men who axed, shot and castrated a black teen for whistling at a white woman. The corpse of Emmett Till was bound with chain, weighted down with a 70-pound cotton gin fan and dumped into the Tallahatchie River. An all-white jury deliberated for 67 minutes before acquitting Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam. In his closing statement, defense attorney John C. Whitten advised jurors, “Your fathers will turn over in their graves if [Milam and Bryant are found guilty], and I’m sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men.” Whitten passed away eight months ago. His clients preceded him in death. Long before they died, the pair confessed their guilt in excruciating detail by selling their story to Look magazine in 1956 for $4,000. Now comes Beauchamp, with a nearly complete documentary, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.” The film, which features testimony of witnesses to the murder never questioned by authorities in 1955, was shown last week to a private audience that included U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Congressman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. The lawmakers have seen to it that the FBI now assists federal and state investigators in Mississippi in preparation of new prosecutions in a case that shocked the world when Emmett’s mother famously insisted on an open-casket funeral so everyone could see by the pulverized face of her son the racist brutality of the time. “I went through a ton of lawyers,” Beauchamp said in an interview before the screening. During the nearly 10 years he showed bits of his film and scores of documents and research material to attorneys and politicians, he said, “No one was willing to sit down and listen. Then when Ken [Thompson] came into this, I found someone who would. He and his partners put me under their wing, and it felt good.” A chance meeting with Blanche Wiesen Cook, a history professor at John Jay College, led to Beauchamp’s introduction to Thompson — ironically, a nearby neighbor in Fort Green. Thompson, in turn, asked Reverend A.R. Bernard Sr. of Brooklyn’s politically potent Christian Cultural Center to urge Schumer and Rangel to lobby the Justice Department. Last month, the department officially reopened the case. “When the Rev. Bernard asks me to jump,” Schumer said last week as he introduced the film, “I ask, ‘How high?’ He has never asked me to do something that was not a noble undertaking because the Rev. Bernard is a noble man.” Rangel spoke as well, addressing himself to younger audience members and comparing the injustice that met Emmett Till in 1955 to what he deplored as today’s injustice in sending U.S. soldiers to Iraq. “Some day people are going to ask you, ‘What were you doing?’” said Rangel. “That’s what this film is about — people like Keith Beauchamp who said he would not be part of a silent generation.” Thompson said an enormous amount of work on the part of state and federal prosecutors will be required to bring the co-conspirators to justice. Outtakes of Beauchamp’s documentary, said Thompson, will reveal as many as seven living accomplices. District Attorney Joyce Chiles, he added, is the first black woman prosecutor whose Mississippi jurisdiction covers the town where the murder occurred. Assisting Chiles are Thompson’s former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern Mississippi, as well as Alexander Acosta, assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights. In an interview, Acosta said of the Justice Department’s role in the state case, “We owe it to Emmett Till, and we owe it to ourselves to see whether after all these years some additional measure of justice remains possible.” Should there be new prosecutions, Thompson promised, his generation of lawyers will see to it the Mississippi courtroom will be starkly different than it was in 1955. When Emmett’s mother attended trial, according to the late Mamie Till Mobley’s recollection in the film, the sons of Emmett’s killers greeted her daily by firing off cap guns as their murdering fathers laughed. Thompson, whose blistering opening statement as prosecutor in the notorious 1997 Abner Louima police torture case electrified a Brooklyn jury, will assist Beauchamp in the preparation and presentation of his research to federal authorities. He said he will also monitor Chiles’ progress toward bringing new murder cases. “What they did to Emmett Till,” he told the audience last week, “they did to everyone in this room, black and white. We all grew up with this — a 14-year-old child, slaughtered. “What went wrong?” he asked. “Why did the federal government fail to act?”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.