The family of Emmett Till continues the path toward justice nearly 67 years after his mangled body was found in a river following a white woman’s claim that he grabbed her.
Although time has passed, no one has ever been held accountable for the death of the then 14-year-old, however, one woman has remained at the center of the case: Carolyn Bryant Donham. Initially, she was named as an abductor in Till’s case via a warrant, yet she was never arrested nor bought to trial for the horrendous crime.
At the time, because Donham was the mother of two children, authorities “did not want to bother her.”
Just last year, the Justice Department closed the investigation after not being able to prove that witnesses lied. Now, Till’s relatives along with activists believe that this warrant could be the key to finally getting Donham before a criminal court and a step toward justice that many believe is well overdue.
“This warrant is a stepping stone toward that,” said Jaribu Hill, the attorney working closely with the Till family. “Because warrants do not expire, we want to see that warrant served on her.”
While the new angle of the case might not be the murder conviction that Till’s family had hoped for, they do believe that it has been a long time coming for someone to seek responsibility for his death.
“Mississippi is not the Mississippi of 1955, but it seems to still carry some of that era of protecting the white woman,” said the leader of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and distant cousin of Till, Deborah Watts.
As the decades have passed, so have a lot of the witnesses involved in the tragedy which took place on August 28, 1955. Evidence collected by investigators has miraculously disappeared, and even the original warrant that could help the family finally get some answers is nowhere to be found. However, officials do believe that the warrant could be located in old courthouse records in the town where the abduction took place, Leflore County, Mississippi.
Donham is currently in her late 80s and was last known to be living in Raleigh, North Carolina. A retired FBI agent who questioned her a little over 15 years ago claims that she appeared not to be aware of the fact that she’d been named on the arrest warrant.
“I think she didn’t recall it,” said Dale Killinger. “She acted surprised.”
On August 24, 1955, a 14-year-old Till entered a store where then 21-year-old Donham worked. According to his relative that was with him at the time, Till whistled at the woman. During her testimony, Donham alleged that he grabbed her.
Two days following the incident, Donham’s husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam showed up armed at the home of Till’s great-uncle Mose Wright, where they were on the hunt to find the young teen.
Fast-forward to now, even if the original warrant document is located with statements that detail evidence found during the time of the crime, courts will still need witnesses to testify – something that could be a hard feat given that many of those people are no longer around.
“It’s my understanding that all those people are dead,” Killinger confirmed.
The news comes just months following Congress’s decision to pass legislation in honor of Emmett Till, making lynching a federal crime in 2022.