CHICAGO – Relatives of Emmett Till (search) disagree over FBI plans to exhume the boy's remains nearly 50 years after he was killed in one of the most infamous crimes of the civil rights era.
Bertha Thomas, president of the Emmett Till Foundation, said she was speaking for a majority of the family in saying she would rather see the newly reopened probe end than allow the body to be exhumed.
"They had over 40 years to do this, and my major question to the FBI, the Department of Justice and anybody else involved, is why now?" Thomas, a distant cousin who knew Till's mother, said Thursday.
The 14-year-old black youth, who was raised in Chicago, was visiting an uncle in the small Mississippi Delta town of Money in 1955 when he was abducted from the home and killed, reportedly for whistling at a white woman.
A cousin who was sleeping in the same room as Till the night he was taken said an autopsy is important.
"It's definitely part of the puzzle because in 1955 the defense said (the victim) wasn't Emmett Till," said Simeon Wright, now 62.
Wright said Thomas does not speak for the entire family: "I know of no other family member who is against this. We're going on with this, with or without her."
Deborah Madden, an FBI spokeswoman in Jackson, Miss., said other relatives who have been contacted by federal agents expressed no opposition to the exhumation.
"Family members known to the FBI were informed that an exhumation and examination of the remains were necessary to establish a conclusive cause of death and they agreed," Madden said.
The FBI said Wednesday it planned to exhume Till's body from a Chicago-area cemetery within the next few weeks for an autopsy to confirm the identification of the badly mutilated body and determine the cause of death. An autopsy might also turn up evidence, such as a bullet, the agency said.
Two white men charged with Till's murder — store owner Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam — were acquitted by an all-white jury. The two, now dead, later confessed in a Look magazine article.
The Justice Department announced plans last year to reopen the investigation, citing information including a documentary that claimed to have found new evidence.
Till's mutilated body was unrecognizable when it was found by fishermen three days later in a river. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, was able to identify him from a ring on his finger. An autopsy was never conducted.