Emmett Till killing: Grand jury declines to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusation led to lynching of Till

GREENWOOD, miss— A Mississippi grand jury has declined to indict the white woman whose allegation sparked the lynching of black teenager Emmett Till nearly 70 years ago, despite revelations of an unfulfilled warrant and a newly uncovered memoir of the woman’s life, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.

A Leflore County grand jury is reviewing evidence and testimony regarding Carolyn Bryant Donham’s involvement in the kidnapping and death of Till, Leflore County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said in a news release.

After hearing testimony from investigators and witnesses for more than seven hours, the grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Donham, Richardson said. Charges of kidnapping and manslaughter were being considered.

The news that the grand jury declined to indict Donham makes it increasingly unlikely that she will ever be prosecuted for her role in the events leading up to Till’s death.

A group searching the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse in June uncovered the uncorroborated warrant charging Donham, then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law JW Milam in Till’s 1955 kidnapping. While the men were arrested and acquitted of murder in Till’s subsequent murder, Donham, then 21 and now 87, was never taken into custody.

In an unpublished memoir obtained by The Associated Press last month, Donham said she didn’t know what would happen to 14-year-old Till, who was living in Chicago and visiting relatives in Mississippi, when he was kidnapped, killed and taken to a country was thrown river. She accused him of making lewd remarks and grabbing her while she worked alone at a family business in Money, Mississippi.

Donham said in the manuscript that the men brought Till to her in the middle of the night for identification, but she tried to help the youth by denying it was him. Despite being kidnapped at gunpoint from a family home by Roy Bryant and Milam, the 14-year-old identified himself to the men, she claimed.

Till’s battered, disfigured body was found days later in a river, weighted down with a heavy metal fan. His mother’s decision, Mamie Till Mobley, to open Till’s coffin for his funeral in Chicago showed the horror of what had happened and gave the civil rights movement additional fuel.

North Carolina historian Tim Tyson published The blood of Emmett Till in 2017 after eight years of research and writing. He interviewed Donham in 2008. His book prompted the Justice Department to reopen an investigation into the Till case. The DOJ closed this case in December 2021 without charging anyone.

Tyson released the following statement about the Leflore County Grand Jury declining to indict Donham:

“The discovery of the 1955 warrant was a good opportunity for further public discussion about the lynching of Emmett Till and the ongoing racial divide in American life. The warrant told us that in 1955, local law enforcement believed they had a probable cause that it was Carolyn Bryant that should have got people thinking, but the warrant didn’t change the concrete evidence against her.The most important thing the Emmett Till case can do is compel all Americans to examine our country’s racial disparities in wealth, opportunity, healthcare, criminal justice, education, and virtually every other measure of well-being and access to the full bounty of the american life.The Till case will not go away because the racism and ruthless indifference that caused it remain with us. We see generations of Black children struggling against these obstacles, and many dying from systemic racism that is as deadly as a rope or a gun.Chester Himes, the black writer, wrote a letter to the New York Post on the day in 1955 when he heard that the all-white jury had acquitted Emmett Till’s killers, and it still stands: “The real horror is to come , when your brain is dead must face the fact that as a nation we don’t want it to stop. If we wanted it, it would.'”

Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Emmett Till’s cousin and the last living witness to Till’s kidnapping, said in a statement Tuesday:

“The state of Mississippi has assured me and my family that they will stop at nothing in the fight for justice for my cousin Emmett. They kept their promise by bringing this latest piece of evidence before the grand jury. This result is unfortunate, but the prosecutor did his best and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years of anti-black schemes that, to this day, have guaranteed those who killed Emmett Till have, go unpunished.“The fact remains that the people who kidnapped, tortured and murdered Emmett did so in full view of all, and our American justice system was and is designed in such a way that they could not be tried for their heinous crimes.“No family should ever have to endure this pain for so long. Going forward, we must keep alive the details and memory of the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the courage of Mamie Mobley so we can reduce racial violence, improve our justice system, and treat one another with the dignity and respect that Mrs. Mobley honored us all.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Emmett Till killing: Grand jury declines to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusation led to lynching of Till

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