Arrest Warrant Moot for Kidnapping of Emmitt Till

In a new court filing, a Mississippi sheriff says that there’s no point in serving an arrest warrant on a white woman in the 1955 kidnapping that led to the lynching of Emmitt Till because last year, a grand jury decided not to indict the woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham. 

In August 1955, Till traveled from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi, where Donham accused him of making improper advances on her at a grocery store. Wheeler Parker, a cousin of Till who was there, has said 14-year-old Till whistled at the woman- an act that flew in the face of Mississippi’s racist social codes of the era. 

Till’s kidnapping and killing became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement when his mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in their hometown of Chicago after his brutalized body was pulled from a river in Mississippi. Jet magazine published the photos.

The Mississippi arrest warrant for “Mrs. Roy Bryant” was issued softly after Till’s death but never served on the white woman who had since remarried, now known as Carolyn Bryant Donham.
Evidence indicates that Donham’s then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam were responsible for the teenager’s death. While the arrest warrant was publicized in 1955, the Leflore County sheriff at the time, George Smith, told reporters that he did not want to “bother” the woman since she was raising two young children. 

Weeks after Till’s body was found, Roy Bryant and Milam were tried for murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. Months later, the men confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine. 

It was last June when a team doing research at the courthouse in Leflore County found the unserved warrant on Donham, to which Attorney General Lynn Fitch said there was no new evidence to pursue a criminal case. In August, the grand jury declined to indict Donham. 

Till’s cousin Priscilla Sterling filed a federal lawsuit against Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks on Feb. 7, seeking to compel him to serve the 1955 warrant on Donham. In the response, Thursday, attorney Charles J. Swayze II, who works under Banks, asked a judge to dismiss the suit. 

Donham, now in her late 80s, has lived in North Carolina and Kentucky in recent years. She has not commented publicly on calls for her prosecution. The U.S. Justice Department announced in December 2021 that it had ended its latest investigation into the lynching of Till without bringing charges against anyone.


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