In February 2017, former U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III sent a letter to the families of Elbert Williams and Elisha Davis stating that his office could not reopen the investigation because it had been too long and many if not all of the potential witnesses had died. He also cited the federal statute of limitations. However, Tennessee does not have a statute of limitations on murder. State Rep. Johnnie Turner sponsored legislation that created a Special Committee for Unsolved Civil Rights Cases. I was one of those who testified, with my daughter on my lap, at a September hearing for families seeking closure for loved ones who were victims of unsolved cold cases of the civil rights era. Rep. Turner not only encouraged me to speak up, she also was the person who planted the idea in my head that I should write a book about my experiences.
Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act 2007
Emmett Till Act Status
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee reexamined the case in February 2016 and concluded too much time had passed to warrant a prosecution, given that the statutes of limitations on the crimes had expired. At the referral of attorney Jim Emison, who had spent years researching this case, the FBI’s Civil Rights Division reopened the case in 2017. According to the DOJ memo, investigators reviewed the original FBI file, as well as media coverage from the time, other government files on the case and materials Emison had uncovered in his research.
On September 4, 2018, the DOJ closed the case without prosecution or referral. The closing memo stated: “The statute of limitations has long run on any federal civil rights crime and there is no basis for federal prosecution of any other crime.” They further cited the death of all known subjects in their decision to close the case.
Elbert Williams and other residents of Brownsville, Tennessee, with express concerns about police brutality, formed a chapter of the NAACP in 1939. They hoped that through the NAACP they might begin to register and exercise their right to vote, thereby addressing the issues in the Brownsville community.
The Murder of Elbert Williams
The investigative file indicates that on June 20, 1940, Elbert Williams contacted Thomas Davis about hosting a meeting of NAACP members from both Brownsville and Jackson, Tennessee.