Emmett Until’s Carolyn Bryant Donham accuser arrest warrant discovered almost 70 years later in courtroom basement

A team searching the basement of a Mississippi courthouse for evidence of the detention of black teenager Emmett Till found guarantee not guaranteed accused a white woman of his 1955 kidnapping, and Till’s relatives who initiated the search wanted authorities to arrest her nearly 70 years later.

An arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant Donham – identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the document – was discovered last week inside a folder of documents placed in a box, Leflore County Clerk Elmus Stockstill told Associated Press on Wednesday. .

This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago boy who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in 1955 after allegedly whistling with a white woman in Mississippi. .


The documents were kept inside the box after decades, he said, but there was nothing else to indicate where the August 29, 1955 subpoena might have been.

Stockstill, who certified the warranty as genuine, said: “They narrowed it down to between the 50s and 60s and luckily.

The search was started by the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and includes two members of Till’s family: Cousin Deborah Watts, head of the Foundation; and her daughter, Teri Watts. They want the authorities to use a warrant to arrest Donham, who at the time of the murder was married to one of the two white men on trial and acquitted just weeks after Till was abducted from a relative’s home. , was killed and thrown into the river.

“Serve it and charge her,” Teri Watts told the AP in an interview.

Donham began the case in August 1955 by accusing 14-year-old Till of making improper advances at a family store in Money, Mississippi. A cousin of Till’s there said that Till whistled at the woman, which flew straight in the face of Mississippi’s racist social norms of the time.

Evidence suggests that a woman, possibly Donham, identified Till with the people who later killed him. A warrant for Donham’s arrest was announced at the time, but the Leflore County sheriff told reporters he didn’t want to “disturb” the woman because she had two young children to take care of.

Now in her 80s and most recently living in North Carolina, Donham has not publicly commented on calls for her prosecution. But Teri Watts said Till’s family believes the kidnapping subpoena is new evidence.

“This is where the state of Mississippi needs to go,” she said.

District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, whose office will prosecute a case, declined to comment on the order but cited a December report about the Till case from the Department of Justice, which said prosecution could not be made.

Emmett Till
In this September 22, 1955 photo, Carolyn Bryant rests her head on her husband Roy Bryant’s shoulder after she testifies during the Emmett Till murder trial in Sumner, Miss.


Contacted by the AP on Wednesday, Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks said: “This is the first time I’m aware of a subpoena.”

Banks, who was 7 years old when Till was killed, said “nothing was said about the subpoena” when a former district attorney investigated the case five or six years ago.

“I’ll see if I can get a copy of the order and contact the DA and get their opinion on it,” Banks said. If the order can still be served, Banks said, he will have to speak to law enforcement officers in the state where Donham resides.

Ronald J. Rychlak, professor of law at the University of Mississippi.

But combined with any new evidence, the “absolutely” initial arrest warrant could be an important stepping stone to establishing probable cause to start a new prosecution, he said.

“If you go in front of a judge, you can say, ‘Once upon a time, a judge determined there was probable cause, and there is much more information today,’” says Rychlak.

Till, from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he entered the store where Donham, then 21, was working on August 24, 1955. A relative of Till was there at the time. , Wheeler Parker, told the AP that Till was whistling at the woman. Donham testified in court that Till also grabbed her and made lewd comments.

Two nights later, Donham’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, showed up armed at the rural Leflore County home of Mose Wright, Till’s great uncle, to looking for young people. Till’s brutal body, weighed down by a fan, was dragged from a river into another county a few days later. His mother’s decision to open the coffin so Chicago mourners could see what had happened helped ignite the civil rights movement at the time.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of murder but later admitted the murder in a magazine interview. While both men were named on the same subpoena for kidnapping Donham, authorities did not pursue the case after they were acquitted.

Wright testified during the murder trial that a person whose voice was “softer” than a man’s Till was identified from inside a pickup truck and his kidnappers took him away from the family home. Other evidence in the FBI files shows that earlier that same night, Donham told her husband that at least two other Black men were not the right people.

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