08.26.16

Senator Burr, Till Family, and Alvin Sykes Release Statements on Anniversary of the Tragic Emmett Till Murder

WASHINGTON — United States Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the Till family, and civil rights activist Alvin Sykes commemorated the 61st anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy who was brutally murdered after whistling at a white woman at a store in Mississippi on August 28th, 1955.

The woman’s husband and brother-in-law were indicted for the murder and tried in Mississippi. After a 67-minute deliberation, both men were acquitted. However, both men would later confess to the murder in a 1956 interview.  In 2004, the Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the Till case for further investigation. Following the reopening of the Till case, activists and cold case researchers like Alvin Sykes have pushed the Justice Department to re-examine many of the unsolved murders of the Civil Rights Era.

“Our country has come a long way in the 61 years since the senseless and tragic murder of young Emmett Till in Mississippi, but there is still so much work left to be done,” said Senator Burr. “There are still too many families like the Till family, who experienced tragic loss at the hands of racial violence, but who were denied justice because their cases were left cold. I am proud that the Senate has passed my bill to ensure that other cold case murders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law in order to help bring some closure to still grieving families. I’m now urging the House of Representatives to pass this legislation without delay when Congress returns.  I can think of no better way to honor Emmett Till’s legacy and to reaffirm to future generations that every single American is worthy of the law’s protection.”

"Mamie Till Mobley would be humbly proud that her son's memory is continued so honorably. My family shares a membership within a community that lives with memories that never turn cold and our legacies of pain have no sunset. That's why I am extremely pleased that two of the major provisions of the Till Bill 2 will eliminate the 10 year sunset provision for the existence of the original law and lift the 1969 time limit on cases under consideration and extend it indefinitely into the future,” said Airickca Gordon-Taylor, cousin of Emmett Till. “I urge the House of Representatives under Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's leadership to pass the Till Bill 2 with all deliberate speed and forward it to President Barack Obama for his signature in September. What a beautiful way to remember Emmett Till today." Ms. Gordon-Taylor can be reached on Twitter via @EmmettTillTalks for further questions or comments.

“We call on all justice seeking Americans to now strongly urge their congressmen to join the current 60 House co-sponsors of Till Bill 2 as soon as the House reconvenes in September,” said Alvin Sykes, President of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign and the architect of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act 2016. “With the passage of this historically important bill 61 years after the murder of Emmett Till. We as a nation would continue to observe the poison coming out of Till’s murder in 1955 continuing to be transformed into the medicine of justice for countless victims of racially motivated murders indefinitely into the future.”  Sykes is the Kansas City based human rights worker who successfully led both the effort to reopen the Emmett Till case for reinvestigation in 2004 as well as the campaign to pass into law the original Emmett Till Act in 2007.

till floor speech

Watch Senator Burr’s floor speech on the introduction of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act in April 2016 here.

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act was introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Burr and co-sponsored by Senators Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).  The House version of the bill is sponsored by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

This legislation is supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP-Legal Defense Fund (LDF), National Urban League, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Emmett Till Justice Campaign, Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), Emory University Civil Rights Cold Case Project, Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, and the Cold Case Justice Initiative.

BACKGROUND

Before the passage of major civil rights legislation in the 1960s, hundreds of racially suspicious crimes were committed in this country, and few attempts to prosecute them were ever pursued. Tuskegee Institute once kept a record of verified lynchings in the United States from 1877 to 1950. The institute documented that nearly 4000 mainly unprosecuted civil rights crimes occurred during that period. Many American families continue to pass down stories of loss and disappearance even today without knowing the truth about what actually happened to their loved ones.

PRIMARY GOALS OF THE BILL

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act represents a critical opportunity to right these wrongs committed, primarily against African Americans, but also against people of diverse backgrounds. In some cases, individuals still remain who were witnesses to these crimes or who can help provide evidence regarding these incidents. This bill reauthorizes and updates the original legislation that was signed into law in 2008. It seeks to respond to the concerns of victims' family members and strengthen collaboration between the Justice Department, the FBI, State and local law enforcement, and advocates to pursue these cold cases. There is a collective goal to seek the truth about this long-standing tragedies and hold the perpetrators and orchestrators of these atrocities accountable.  This reauthorization also seeks to respond to the concerns of advocates regarding the implementation of the original legislation.

MAJOR PROVISIONS OF THE LEGISLATION

  • This bill calls on the Department of Justice and FBI to consult with civil rights experts, universities, and other entities that have also been gathering evidence in these cold cases;
  • Provides clearer direction and improved coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement and the families of victims, advocates, and academics working on these issues;
  • Strengthens the Department of Justice’s reporting requirements;
  • Eliminates the pre-1969 time limitation on investigations;
  • Eliminates the sunset provision in the original bill;
  • Asks the Department of Justice to review specific closed cases that warrant further investigation; 
  • Maintains the previous funding levels;
  • Establishes the process to reopen, review, and update the public on the cases previously closed and explain the outcome of cases referred to the Department of the Justice; and
  • Clarifies the law’s intent.

A one-pager on the bill is available here.