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Filmmaker discusses Emmett Till

Karen Langley | Thursday, February 16, 2006

Notre Dame students were called to participate in the ongoing civil rights movement Wednesday when activist and filmmaker Keith Beauchamp screened his documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” – a film that has helped to reopen the 50-year-old case of a killing that garnered support for the fledgling movement in the 1950s.

“Before there was a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Rosa Parks, there was the murder of Emmett Louis Till that sparked the civil rights movement in the American South,” he said.

In the film, Beauchamp investigates the August 1955 case in which 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till, while visiting relatives in Mississippi, was murdered for addressing a white woman in public. The case drew national attention for the barbaric nature of the killing – Till was mutilated, shot in the head and his body left at a river’s bottom – and, despite extensive evidence of their guilt, the two white men who stood trial for the kidnapping and murder were acquitted.

Though Roy Bryant, husband of the woman who accused Till of improperly addressing her, and his half-brother J.W. Milam later confessed their roles in the kidnapping and murder in a national magazine when a reporter offered them $4,000, they were protected from prosecution by the “double jeopardy” rule.

But the attention brought by Beauchamp’s film prompted the Justice Department to reopen the case in 2004 under a federal-state partnership.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded its investigation in January, and the District Attorney of Money, Miss. – the town where Till was killed – may issue indictments against as many as 14 people who were involved in the kidnapping and murder.

“I was able to use the film as a vehicle that would ultimately get the case reopened,” Beauchamp said. “We owe it to Emmett Till, to his family and to ourselves to see after so many years if justice is still possible.”

Beauchamp asked the audience to write letters to the D.A. of Money.

“I come to you … asking you to keep the fire of this movement burning,” he said. “I encourage you to get involved in a civil rights movement that still exists today.”

The screening and presentation were sponsored by the Multicultural Student Programs and Services office and held at the Hesburgh Center auditorium.