Till was abducted, tortured and killed while visiting the state from his home in Chicago. His mother’s decision to have an open-casket funeral showing her son’s mutilated body helped to galvanise the US civil rights movement. No one has been convicted of the killing.
The Justice Department had most recently reopened the investigation in 2018, a year after a 2017 book quoted Carolyn Bryant Donham as saying she lied when she claimed that 14-year-old Till grabbed her, whistled and made sexual advances while she was working in a store in the small community of Money.
Relatives have publicly denied that Donham, who is in her 80s, recanted her allegations about Till.
“In closing this matter without prosecution, the government does not take the position that the state court testimony the woman gave in 1955 was truthful or accurate,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
“There remains considerable doubt as to the credibility of her version of events, which is contradicted by others who were with Till at the time, including the account of a living witness.”
Till’s cousin, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr, said during a news conference on Monday that “Today is a day we will never forget”.
“For 66 years we have suffered pain,” he said. “I suffered tremendously.”
Days after Till was killed, his body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, where he had been tossed after he was shot and weighted down with a cotton gin fan.
Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam were tried on murder charges about a month after Till was killed, but an all-white Mississippi jury acquitted them.
Months later, they confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine. Bryant was married to Donham in 1955. Bryant died in 1994 and Milam died in 1981.
The Justice Department had in 2004 opened an investigation looking into whether others were involved in the killing. As federal civil rights crimes related to the incident had passed the statute of limitations, the FBI worked with state authorities to determine if state charges could be brought.
In February 2007, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone, and the Justice Department announced it was closing the case.
The author of the 2017 book The Blood of Emmett Till, which recounted the accuser’s recantation, said he provided details of his interviews with Donham to federal investigators.
In a statement provided to the Associated Press news agency, Timothy B Tyson noted that the only crime Donham admitted to – perjury – would have been “beyond prosecution since the fall of 1957” due to the statute of limitations.
The FBI said that Donham had denied to them that she had recanted her initial testimony to Tyson. Authorities said the author did not have recordings or transcripts of the interview to prove Donham was lying to the federal investigators.
On Monday, Till’s cousin, Thelma Wright Edwards, 90, said she was “not surprised” that the case had been closed but her “heart is broken.”
“I have no hate in my heart but I had hoped we could get an apology,” she said at a press conference. “That didn’t happen. The case is closed and we have to go on from here.”