Emmett Till's Family Finds 1955 Warrant, Calls for Arrest

Carolyn Bryant Donham is in her 80s now
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 30, 2022 12:07 AM CDT
Updated Jun 30, 2022 5:03 AM CDT
Emmett Till's Family Finds Warrant, Calls for Arrest of Woman Who Accused Him
In this Sept. 23, 1955, file photo, JW Milam, left, his wife, second from left, Roy Bryant, far right, and his wife, Carolyn Bryant, sit together in a courtroom in Sumner, Miss.   (AP Photo, File)

(Newser) – A team searching a Mississippi courthouse basement for evidence about the lynching of Black teenager Emmett Till has found the unserved warrant charging a white woman in his 1955 kidnapping, and relatives of the victim want authorities to finally arrest her nearly 70 years later, the AP reports. A warrant for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham—identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the document—was discovered last week by searchers inside a file folder that had been placed in a box, Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill told the AP on Wednesday. Documents are kept inside boxes by decade, he said, but there was nothing else to indicate where the warrant, dated Aug. 29, 1955, might have been. “They narrowed it down between the ‘50s and ’60s and got lucky," said Stockstill, who certified the warrant as genuine.

The search group included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and two Till relatives: cousin Deborah Watts, head of the foundation; and her daughter, Teri Watts. Relatives want authorities to use the warrant to arrest Donham, who at the time of the slaying was married to one of two white men tried and acquitted just weeks after Till was abducted from a relative's home, killed, and dumped into a river. Donham set off the case in August 1955 by accusing the 14-year-old Till of making improper advances at a family store in Money, Mississippi. A cousin of Till who was there has said Till whistled at the woman, an act that flew in the face of Mississippi's racist social codes of the era. Evidence indicates a woman, possibly Donham, identified Till to the men who later killed him: Donham's then-husband and his half-brother.

The arrest warrant against Donham was publicized at the time, but the Leflore County sheriff told reporters he did not want to “bother” the woman since she had two young children to care for. Now in her 80s and most recently living in North Carolina, Donham has not commented publicly on calls for her prosecution. But Teri Watts said the Till family believes the warrant accusing Donham of kidnapping amounts to new evidence. “This is what the state of Mississippi needs to go ahead,” she said. District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, whose office would prosecute a case, declined comment on the warrant but cited a December report about the Till case from the Justice Department, which said no prosecution was possible. The current sheriff said he will discuss the matter with the DA.

(Read more Emmett Till stories.)

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