The white woman who claimed Emmett Till flirted with her, an act that led to his savage death in the 1950s, may have an open warrant for his kidnapping issued before the teen’s body was discovered. Till’s family wants her to be held accountable for his death by all means.
Carolyn Bryant Donham’s then-husband, brother-in-law, and other men thrashed a nude Emmett, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, tied his body to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire, and tossed him into the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi in August 1955.
According to the US Department of Justice, it is “one of the most infamous acts of racial brutality in our country’s history.” The demand for justice by Emmett’s families prompted Congress to approve an anti-lynching statute last month. None of the assailants or accomplices in the crime have been convicted, however, and all of the witnesses are deceased.
Authorities at the time indicated they didn’t want to “bother” Donham since she had two little children, according to reports.
An all-white jury found two assailants, Roy Bryant and Joe William Milam, not guilty of murdering Emmett in September 1955. In November 1955, a grand jury declined to indict them on kidnapping allegations. In a magazine story two months later, the men confessed to kidnapping and murdering Emmett.
At least four white guys tortured and hung the 14-year-old from the rafters of a barn before discarding his body in the river, according to accounts. According to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, he was taken from his uncle’s home by a woman and a man, and three Black men assisted in keeping him in the back of a truck.
Emmett’s family has continued to demand that Donham be charged with the teen’s death.
There is no indication that Donham’s kidnapping warrant was dropped, according to Jaribu Hill, a lawyer working with the family, so it could be the break the police need to file a criminal court case.
“Remember, it was Carolyn Bryant, the 21-year-old white lady who pointed a child to his violent, murdering husband,” Hill said last month to the Jackson Free Press. “We’re looking for justice.” We’re looking for the original warrant from 1955 that should have been served on her.”
After a professor stated in a book that Donham confessed to him about lying in court about the events leading up to the killing, the US Department of Justice reopened a closed investigation into Emmett’s murder and kidnapping in 2017.
Emmet never grabbed her waist, stroked her hand, or suggested, “How about a date, Baby?” according to Duke University Professor Timothy Tyson, who spoke with Donham in 2008.
When questioned by the FBI, Donham, who is now 88 years old, denied recanting her story, and federal prosecutors indicated it would be impossible to show she did. Donham did not specifically state that the physical interaction did not occur, and Tyson did not record the confession. The case was closed by the Department of Justice in December 2021.
In 2007, a Mississippi grand jury decided not to charge Donham with manslaughter due to a lack of evidence.
The murder was investigated by federal authorities in 2004 as part of the Cold Case Initiative, however, it was ultimately ruled that the DOJ lacked jurisdiction to bring federal charges.
“The government’s re-investigation uncovered no new evidence suggesting that the woman or any other surviving person was involved in Till’s kidnapping and murder,” the DOJ announced in a media release on December 6. “Even if such proof could be obtained, no federal hate crime legislation existed in 1955, and the only civil rights provisions in existence at the time have run their course.”
Emmett was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, when he came across 21-year-old Donham working in the family store. Emmett whistled at the woman, according to his cousin Wheeler Parker Jr. Donham claimed he grabbed her and notified her husband and the court about it.
Emmett’s uncle testified in court that he heard a “lighter” than a man’s voice identify Emmett as the perpetrator. Donham had earlier that day apparently ruled out two additional Black males. Wright had to identify a deformed Emmett by a ring on his finger three days later.
Dale Killinger, a retired FBI agent who worked on the case more than 15 years ago, said Donham didn’t appear to be aware that she was being investigated.
He stated, “I believe she didn’t recall it.” “She was taken aback.”
Killinger told The Associated Press that he had never seen a warrant and had never heard of one being revoked by a judge. It’s unclear if it might be used to apprehend or convict Donham today. Even if the document is recovered, Killinger told reporters, the courts will require witnesses to testify.
Deborah Watts, who leads the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and is a distant cousin of Emmett, believes it’s past time for Donham to face charges, even if they aren’t for murder.
“Mississippi is not the Mississippi of 1955,” Watts remarked, “but it seems to retain some of that era of white lady protection.”