Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Complete text provided for Sessions remarks at African American History Month observance

(The following remarks were made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the National African American History Month observance.)

Good morning everyone, and thank you all for coming. I’m grateful to Richard [Toscano] and our Equal Employment Opportunity Staff for putting together today’s program.

During Black History Month, we honor the experience and the achievements of African Americans throughout our history. But this month is not only a celebration for African Americans. It is a celebration of America, for black history is American history – a key thread in the fabric of our country.

In the Declaration of Independence, our Founders declared something truly revolutionary. They set forth as self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The history of America is the story of this nation’s efforts, as flawed men and women, to fully live out these founding ideals and make them a reality for all our people. I was born in Selma and grew up in southern Alabama. In my lifetime, I have seen raw discrimination first hand. Schools were not only separate but clearly unequal. Job opportunities in private and governmental offices went to white over blacks. There was open wage discrimination. Police and Sheriff’s offices were often all or virtually all white. Black citizens were systematically denied the right to vote. Too often our good and decent Black citizens were not just placed in a second class citizenship but were denied the very basic rights of citizenship. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were the pivot points. This is when the tide turned. Martin Luther King led the movement. Relentless, Courageous, Moral, Faithful. And Victorious. Much progress has occurred over those intervening 50 plus years. A huge part of that progress was a direct result of the dedicated and principled work of the Department of Justice. This Department was at the forefront of the revolution that occurred. The movement was advanced in states, cities, schools, and in rural areas. Equal justice must prevail in every corner of this nation. There remains, of course, much to be done. We must also know that real reconciliation goes beyond law. It lies in the heart and the soul – as Lincoln and Dr. King so well knew.

So, let’s do our jobs. Let’s fulfill our duty. And, as we do so, let us perform in a way that builds harmony, unity and justice.

At the Department of Justice, we work to safeguard justice for all citizens, and to protect civil rights. This is our mission. And we are especially proud today of our thousands of gifted African-American employees who help carry out that mission every day – as U.S. attorneys, Department attorneys, line attorneys, special agents, professional staff and in many other roles. In your own ways, without fanfare, all of you are becoming part of the great history that we celebrate during this month.

Upholding the promise of liberty for all depends greatly on the work of this department. But it depends on much more – for example, on making sure that all our children are properly educated and rightly instructed in the principles that make life in America so special. So it’s indeed appropriate that this year’s theme for African American History Month centers on education.

We’re honored to have with us today Dr. Benjamin Williams, Principal of the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School here in Washington, D.C. After the film, he will lead a discussion about how we can help young African American men stay in school and reach their full potential.

Thank you all again for coming, and for listening to me. I’m sorry I can’t stay to watch the film, but I do hope you’ll enjoy it and that it will lead to a good conversation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Illinois Congressman calls for reopening of Emmett Till investigation

(From Congressman Bobby Rush, D-Illinois)

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) today asked the U.S. Justice Department to reopen the Emmett Till murder case in light of new information which suggests a witness may have provided false testimony to federal authorities. The trial and subsequent acquittal of the perpetrators by an all-white jury in 1955, led to national outrage and led to Rosa Parks’ defiant stance against racial injustice in December of the same year sparking the Civil Rights Movement. The youth was accused of “whistling at a white woman.”

On August 28, 1955, Till was kidnapped, tortured, shot, mutilated and weighted down with a cotton gin fan before being tossed in the Tallahatchie River in Money, Mississippi. The elementary school-aged youth had been on summer break visiting relatives when he was murdered.

Now, an author claims the still-living Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman at the center of the crime, admitted in 2007 that she made up the story about the boy’s actions, raising questions about whether the outcome would have been the same had she not fabricated parts or all of her sworn testimony. In his correspondence to the Attorney General, the Congressman wrote:

“As you may know, I have long expressed an interest in the circumstances surrounding the murder of Emmett Till. My interest is not only personal but also because Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till, was a longtime resident of my district which also serves as Emmett’s final resting place.

“…I understand that in 2007, the Department of Justice determined that this case did not warrant federal prosecution due to the statute of limitations on any potential federal crimes. Recent developments, however, lead me to believe that a reevaluation of that decision is warranted. History tells us that in 1955, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted by an all-white jury of Emmett’s murder. This acquittal was largely based on testimony given by Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, who had accused Emmett of whistling at, grabbing, and threatening her. What history does not tell us — and what has only recently come to light — is evidence that, in 2007, Carolyn Bryant Donham ‘confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony.’ In fact, when speaking of her earlier allegations that Emmett ‘had made verbal and physical advances on her,’ she is specifically quoted as saying ‘That part’s not true.’

“This revelation, I believe, merits a reevaluation of the Justice Department’s 2007 decision. At minimum, it is possible that false statements were made during the FBI’s investigation leading up to this report. Additionally, at a basic human level and in the interest of justice and historical integrity, society cannot allow such an egregious lie to go unpunished; especially when this lie led to the gruesome and horrific murder of a child. As Carolyn Bryant Donham herself said, ‘Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.’

“For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to reevaluate the potential for federal prosecution of any applicable crimes in this case. … As Mamie is reported to have said in 2015, ‘I hope he didn’t die in vain.’ I wholeheartedly share this sentiment and I thank you for your attention to this matter.”

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Congressman calls for reopening of Emmett Till investigation

A new book revealing that Carolyn Bryant Donham lied when she testified that 14-year-old Emmett Till made moves on her has sparked cries for a reopening of the investigation into Till's 1955 lynching death.

Till was brutally murdered by Donham's husband at the time, Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law J. W. Milam. The two were found not guilty by a Tallahatchee County, Mississippi jury but later sold the story of how they murdered Till to Look magazine for $4,000.

Donham has refused interviews and has not talked about Emmett Till since the trial until she consented to a 2007 interview with author Timothy Tyson for his book, The Blood of Emmett Till, which was published earlier this month.

Among those calling for the investigation to be reopened is Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi.

The following message was posted on his Facebook page Friday:

Today, I wrote to the U.S Department of Justice. Asking for a formal investigation in regards to Carolyn Bryant Donham's false testimony during the trial of Emmett Louise Till's murderers. Please see my letter below.

Black History Month spotlight on Kansas City Monarchs' Buck O'Neil