Emmett Till’s family are calling for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham after finding an unfulfilled 1955 warrant


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Emmett Till’s family are calling for the arrest of the woman linked to the 1955 kidnapping of the black teenager after a team looking for new evidence of the infamous lynching found an unfulfilled warrant against her that was never executed almost 70 years ago.

Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the search party, which included two of Till’s relatives and members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, uncovered an arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant Donham — identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the document — in a file folder in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse last week.

Donham, who is white, had accused 14-year-old Till, in August 1955, in a family shop in Money, Miss. Donham was married to Roy Bryant, one of two white men acquitted weeks after Till was kidnapped from a relative’s home, lynched and dumped in a river.

While the documents are sorted by decade, it’s unclear where the August 29, 1955 warrant was located in all those years. Stockstill told the AP that he confirmed the warrant as genuine after it was found on June 21.

“They narrowed it down between the ’50s and ’60s and got lucky,” Stockstill said.

A photo of the warrant released by the Mississippi Free Press shows a document that reads, “We are ordering you to take with you the bodies of JW Milam, Roy Bryant and Mrs. Roy Bryant if found in your county … around the state.” Mississippi to respond on charges of kidnapping.” Ticks are next to Milam’s and Bryant’s names, but Donham, identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant,” doesn’t have one next to hers.

News of the discovery prompted the family and longtime attorneys to call for the arrest of Donham, who is in her late 80s and public records say she last lived in North Carolina. Since the police never served the warrant, it’s possible law enforcement is still seeking her arrest.

Till’s cousins ​​Deborah and Teri Watts previously submitted a petition to Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R) calling for Donham to be prosecuted for Till’s kidnapping. The Justice Department announced last December that it had closed its investigation into Till’s lynching.

“Execute arrest warrant now!” tweeted the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

“Serve it and charge them,” Teri Watts told AP, adding that the warrant’s discovery constitutes new evidence. “That’s what the state of Mississippi needs to move forward.”

Donham, Stockstill, the Justice Department and Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While a 1955 warrant probably wouldn’t stand up if a sheriff served it, any new evidence could provide a stronger case for the warrant’s discovery to prompt a new investigation, Ronald J. Rychlak, a distinguished law professor at the university who Mississippi School of Law, across from the Washington Post.

“If officials want to follow up this case, they probably have all the information they had in 1955 and then some. You really could go before a judge today or tomorrow and get a new warrant if you believe there is actually probable cause and suspicion of a crime,” Rychlak said. “The warrant doesn’t really provide us with new substantive evidence of her role in this crime, but it does indicate that she was once a suspect and that a judge has determined a probable cause for her arrest.”

In August 1955, Till left Chicago to visit relatives for a summer vacation in Mississippi, where he would stay with his great-uncle Moses Wright. Till’s mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, who was born and raised in rural Mississippi, warned her son that the state was riddled with racism and reminded him to obey his relatives.

“She told him to be very careful … humble himself to the point of getting on his knees,” Time said. “‘He lived in Chicago,’ she explained at the trial of his killers, ‘he didn’t know.’ ”

Emmett Till’s mother opened his coffin and started the civil rights movement

A few days after Till arrived in Mississippi, he and his cousins ​​went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money town to buy candy. It was reported that Till Donham and then Carolyn Bryant, who worked at the store, kicked off the whistle.

Maurie Wright, 16, Till’s cousin, told the United Press in a report published September 1, 1955: “Emmett went into the store and asked for some foam and after saying ‘goodbye’ to the women left. Outside, Emmett let out a “wolf cry.” I told Emmett to watch what he said in the store.”

That night, August 28, 1955, the woman’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, According to a 2007 Associated Press report, he went to Till’s great-uncle’s house and demanded that the boy come out.

“Moses begged the men to leave Emmett alone,” according to PBS. “‘He’s only 14, he’s from up north. Why not flog the boy and leave it at that?’” His wife, Elizabeth Wright, “offered the intruders money, but they ordered her to go back to bed.”

Till’s uncle “walked the men through his house with flashlights until they found Emmett asleep in a bed,” according to the PBS report. “They woke him up and told him to get dressed.”

Three days later, Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River with a cotton gin fan around his neck.

Bryant and Milam were charged with murder and tried on September 19, 1955 in Sumner, Mississippi. Five days into the trial, Bryant and Milam were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury after about an hour of deliberations in a decision that shocked the world.

There have been several efforts to reinvestigate the Till case, such as when the Justice Department reopened the case in recent years. Although Leflore County District Attorney Joyce Chiles (D) brought the case against Donham to a grand jury in 2007, she declined to charge her with Till’s murder. No one has ever been convicted of Till’s murder.

Nearly 60 years after the lynching, Donham revealed she lied about her interaction with Till. In the 2017 book The Blood of Emmett Till, Duke University professor Timothy B. Tyson wrote that Donham admitted in an interview that Till had made no sexual advances towards her. Her testimony directly contradicted her testimony decades earlier, when she told a jury that Till grabbed her by the waist and said rude things to her.

New details in the book about Emmett Till’s death prompted officers to reopen the investigation

In announcing that Donham would not be prosecuted, the Justice Department noted that “the Government does not take the position that the woman’s testimony in a state court in 1955 was truthful or accurate.” Donham told the FBI that she never denied her allegations and said there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a doubt that she lied to the FBI,” according to the Justice Department.

“Significant doubts remain 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,” the Justice Department said in a December 2021 news release.

Milam and Bryant are both dead now, but Till’s family and supporters have claimed Donham should be arrested. Prior to the discovery of the document, filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, who directed the 2005 documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, said in a presentation at Southern University that he believes a warrant for Donham’s arrest has existed for years, according to the Free Press.

“The next step is to go after Carolyn,” Beauchamp said. “She must be held accountable for her involvement in the kidnapping and murder.”

Rychlak, Ole Miss’s law professor, told The Post it was “unique and amazing that a document should emerge so much later”.

“I’m not aware of anything that has even come close to going in that direction,” he said.

As news of the warrant spread, many took to social media to call for action against Donham. Among them was Shuwaski Young, a Democratic nominee for Congress, who urged law enforcement to “act swiftly and decisively.”

“Justice has been delayed long enough,” he said wrote.

Beauchamp, who was part of the search party that found the document, expressed optimism that charges could eventually be brought nearly seven decades after Till’s death.

“It’s not over until it’s over…” Beauchamp tweeted. Emmett Till’s family are calling for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham after finding an unfulfilled 1955 warrant

James Brien

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