In their calls for a renewed investigation into the Emmett Till murder, relatives and activists are advocating for another possible path toward accountability in Mississippi: they want officials to launch a kidnapping trial against the woman who committed black crimes. The lynching was started by accusing the Chicago teenager. of unreasonable advances in 1955.
Carolyn Bryant Donham was named in a warrant nearly 67 years ago that accused her of kidnapping Till before her body was found in a river, FBI records show, yet she was never arrested. Wasn’t done or prosecuted in a case that shocked the world. for its cruelty.
Officials at the time said that the woman had two small children and did not want to disturb her. Donham’s then-husband and another man were acquitted of murder.
Make no mistake: Till’s relatives still prefer to prosecute murder. But there is no evidence that the kidnapping warrant was ever rejected so it could be used to arrest Donham and eventually take her to a criminal court, working with the Till family. Jaribu Hill, a lawyer with
“This warrant is a step towards that,” she said. “Since the warrant does not expire, we wish to see that the warrant has been served on him.”
There are many obstacles. Witnesses have died in the decades following the Till lynching, and it is unclear what happened to the evidence gathered by investigators. Even the location of the original warrant remains a mystery. It may be in the boxes of old courthouse records in Leflore County, Mississippi, where the kidnapping took place.
A relative of Till said that too much time has passed for anyone to arrest Donham in Till’s kidnapping, if not to kill himself.
“Mississippi isn’t the Mississippi of 1955, but it looks like there’s still some of that era of white woman defense,” said Till’s distant cousin Deborah Watts, who runs the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.
Now in her late 80s and most recently living in Raleigh, North Carolina, Donham has not commented publicly on calls for her prosecution. Dale Killinger, a retired FBI agent, said he didn’t know he was named in an arrest warrant until decades later in the kidnapping of Till, who had interrogated him more than 15 years earlier.
“I guess he didn’t remember it,” she said. “he wondered.”
The Justice Department closed its most recent investigation into the murder in December, when the agency said that Donham had denied a writer’s claim that he had rewritten his claims about doing something inappropriate to her at the store, where he worked in the city of money. Officials said the author could not produce any recordings or tapes to support the allegation.
Watts remained unsatisfied until the relatives met with officials, including District Attorney Dwayne Richardson, the lead prosecutor for LeFleur County, in March, Watts said. “There doesn’t seem to be the determination or courage to do what needs to be done,” she said.
Richardson has held the position for nearly 15 years and was the first black person to serve as president of the Mississippi Prosecutor’s Association. He did not return phone messages or emails seeking comment about a possible abduction case.
Keith Beauchamp, a filmmaker whose documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” preceded a renewed Justice Department investigation that ended without charges in 2007, said there was enough evidence to prosecute Donham.
“If we are saying that we are a country of truth and justice, then we must get truth and justice … no matter the age or gender of the person involved,” Beauchamp said.
Stories about the events that led to Till’s murder, but the woman known at the time as Caroline Bryant, were always at the center of it, said writer Davery Anderson, who obtained original FBI files on the case while conducting a 2015 search. did it The book “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement.”
By the time a 14-year-old from Chicago came to visit his relatives in Mississippi on August 24, 1955, he had come to the store; Donham, 21, was working inside. Wheeler Parker, a Till relative who was there at the time, told The Associated Press that Till whistled at the woman. Donham testified that Till held her.
Two nights later, Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, appear armed in search of youth at the rural home of Till’s great-grandfather, Moss Wright.
Wright testified in 1955 that a man’s identity was “lighter” from inside a pickup truck and that the hijackers took him away. Other evidence in FBI files indicates that earlier that night, Donham told her husband that at least two other black men were not the right people.
Officers had already obtained warrants accusing the two men of kidnapping and Donham before Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River, FBI files show, but police never arrested Donham.
“We’re not going to disturb the woman,” Lefloor County Sheriff George Smith told reporters, “she has two little boys to take care of.”
Roy Bryant and Milam were quickly indicted on the murder charges and were acquitted by an all-white jury in Tallahachee County nearly two weeks later.
Grand jurors in neighboring Leflore County subsequently refused to indict the men on kidnapping charges, effectively eliminating the threat of prosecution for Roy Bryant and Milam. Both men have been dead for decades, leaving Donham as the lone survivor directly involved.
Killinger, a retired federal agent, said during his investigation he saw neither the original warrant nor any indication that it had ever been revoked by a court, and it is unclear whether it was used today to arrest or attempt to arrest Donham. To be done or not. Even if officials found the original paperwork with statements detailing the evidence, he said, courts require witnesses to testify.
“And it’s my understanding that all those people are dead,” Killinger said.
Reeves is a member of Associated Press’s Race and Ethnicity team.