1 July 2022
The 14-year-old was murdered in 1955 while visiting family in Mississippi after he was accused of whistling at and making sexual advances toward a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. He was kidnapped, badly beaten and found dead in the Tallahatchie River several days later.
The woman would remarry and change her name to Carolyn Bryant Donham.
An unserved arrest warrant from 1955 shows that a judicial official in Mississippi believed there was probable cause for the arrest of Donham, who now lives in Raleigh. She reportedly talked to her then-husband about the incident. Weeks after the lynching, the husband and another man were tried and acquitted for the boy’s murder.
National civil rights activist, John C. Barnett and other activists held a press conference in front of the district attorney’s office at 2 p.m. and asked for Wake County and Mississippi law enforcement officers to arrest Donham.
“At the end of the day I am appalled at the fact that this warrant just popped up 70 years later. Who was hiding it?” Barnett said.
“Justice has been delayed for her too long and denied for this family far too long. It’s now time for her to reap what she has sown,” North Carolina activists Kerwin Pittman said Thursday to ABC11. “There is no statute of limitations for murder. She’s still just as culpable today in her old age as the men who committed the murder of Emmett Till back then.”
The new evidence has some legal experts, like Dawn Blagrove of Emancipate NC, hopeful someone could finally face justice for Till’s murder.
“I think that is enough grounds for any judge today to use that evidence already adjudicated upon and decided upon by another judge. That should be enough to issue a new warrant and reopen the case,” Blagrove said.
The Department of Justice reopened an investigation into the cold case murder of Till, but closed it in December of 2021 without making any charges.
Triangle author Tim Tyson published The Blood of Emmett Till in 2017 after eight years of research and writing. He interviewed Donham in Raleigh in 2008. His book sparked the DOJ investigation.
“She told me nothing that boy did could justify what happened to him. As for the things she said in court about him putting his hands on her or speaking to her in any sexual way isn’t true,” Tyson said. “This is one of the most important stories about race in American history and any knowledge we get about it further is good.”
Till’s death laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement. Mamie Till, his mother, made the decision to hold an open-casket funeral that shocked the nation and forced America to see the ugly reality of what it meant to be Black in the Jim Crow South.
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