Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp grew up in Baton Rouge, LA hearing stories about Emmett Till’s murder and other civil rights atrocities in Mississippi. It would shape how he eventually spent his adult life helping Till’s family fight for justice and turning that fight into a feature film. The film, co-produced by Whoopi Goldberg, will be released in October. But before the film’s debut, Beauchamp spent three days in Jackson this past weekend demanding the Justice Department to reopen Till’s case. The case was closed in December 2021, citing no new evidence.
“This passion – I’ve had [it] since I was ten years old. It’s been a lifelong odyssey seeking justice for Emmett Louis Till,” he said. “Pressure has to be brought to bear. It has to be put on the system that we’ve been fighting so long. I was there to lend my support.”
On Friday, relatives of Till presented Mississippi authorities with a petition signed by over 300,000 people seeking a renewed probe of the killing. Other petition drives continue. Michelle Williams, chief of staff for Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, casts doubt on the possibility of a renewed investigation. In a statement, she said the Justice Department had worked with a local district attorney’s office in a probe that uncovered no new evidence. Federal officials had previously reopened the investigation after a 2017 book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” quoted Carolyn Bryant Donham as saying she lied when she claimed Till accosted her. Relatives have publicly denied that Bryant Donham recanted her original allegations, and she told the FBI she had never changed her story.
Beauchamp says the new anti-lynching bill that was passed in Congress last week is the perfect reason to keep pursuing justice. The “Emmett Till Anti-Lynching” bill is headed to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. It is the first of nearly 200 bills introduced over the past century to ban lynching that has made it this far.
“We don’t want people to lose sight of the passing of this bill. We are all celebrating that. But what good is it to celebrate that when we don’t have justice,” he said. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse. Let’s use this to get justice for Emmett. That’s why you’re hearing more from the family now.”
Beauchamp says he promised Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, that he would see this fight through until all those involved in this case were brought to justice. He says he has a responsibility to all the witnesses who have testified since 2004.
“I am the one who brought all the evidence forward against all the perpetrators involved as well as Carolyn Bryant,” he added. “I just can’t sit back and allow all this research and time to go to waste when I know there’s a guilty party out there who can be charged.”
At the press conference, Till’s cousin, Priscilla Sterling, said a visit to Oxford on last Tuesday to see the district attorney for the Fourth Circuit Court District of Mississippi was uneventful. She alleged political influences from the 1950s and now are preventing action in the case. The original warrant issued for Carolyn Bryant Donham was not served and should be done so now, she said.
Anna Laura Williams, who is the cousin of Mamie Till-Mobley, said they have new evidence to present now.
“We have a gentleman that’s willing to state that he was there when it all took place. He was living on the properties. He can come to court. And not only that, Carolyn Bryant was served a warrant, but he was supposed to be served a warrant that never took place,” Williams said.
Beauchamp concurs, saying he has more new information about the case that will soon become public. He says this new evidence could be a gamechanger.
“There were two kids that I found that were picked up before Emmett Till was actually kidnapped. They were assaulted and kidnapped as well because they thought these two kids were Till,” he said. “Carolyn Bryant says later, when Emmett was brought to her, [that] he wasn’t the kid either. Yet, he ends up dead.”
Beauchamp says Bryant-Donham is culpable, and there is no way she should be allowed to pass without giving us information about that night.
“The only issue we’re fighting is the protection of white womanhood,” he said.
“I know people want to see racial reconciliation take place, and we hear that term all the time. I just think people need to understand there can never be racial reconciliation without truth and justice.”
When asked if anything short of Bryant-Donham being arrested and convicted will bring him satisfaction, Beauchamp was reflective.
“I don’t so much worry about me. I worry about these families. It’s heartbreaking to see many of these heroes and sheroes who’ve been fighting on the front lines for so long suddenly losing hope,” he said. “They’re having to fall back on forgiveness as if forgiveness is something that will give you closure and I’m seeing that with, not just the Till family, but many other families that have been on this long journey for justice.”