1955 Arrest Warrant for Woman Who Accused Emmett Till Found in Court Basement

Emmett Till's grave
Emmett Till's grave in Illinois.Getty

The 14-year-old Black boy was kidnapped and lynched in rural Mississippi after a white woman accused him of improper behavior.

An unserved arrest warrant for the white woman who accused Emmett Till of improper behavior has been found in a Mississippi court basement, nearly 70 years after the 14-year-old Black boy was kidnapped and lynched.

Searchers looking for evidence in Till's brutal 1955 murder discovered the warrant charging Carolyn Bryant Donham with kidnapping and relatives of the slain teen want her arrested, The Associated Press reported.  

Donham was identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the document that was found in a file folder inside a box, Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill told The AP. The warrant, dated Aug. 29, 1955, is genuine, Stockstill said.

The searchers included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and two Till relatives: cousin Deborah Watts, head of the foundation; and her daughter, Teri Watts. 

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

Donham's husband, Roy Bryant, was acquitted with his half-brother, J.W. Milam, of murdering Till by an all-white jury in rural Mississippi. The trial drew extensive media coverage in the racist south and details of the teen's violent kidnapping and killing helped galvanize the Civil Rights movement.

Donham ignited the case by accusing Till of making improper advances at her family store in Money, Mississippi. A cousin of Till who was there said the boy whistled at the 21-year-old white woman.

Till, who lived in Chicago, had just arrived in the Deep South to visit family. Days after Donham's accusation, Till was dragged from his great-uncle's home on Aug. 28, brutally beaten, then dragged to the bank of the the Tallahatchie River, where he was shot in in the head and tied with barbed wire to a 70-pound metal fan and dumped in the water.

His bloated and broken body was found three days later.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of murder, but later admitted to the killing in a magazine interview. Both men were named in the warrant accusing Donham of kidnapping, but authorities did not pursue a case against her.

Donham, now 88 and last known to be living in North Carolina, is the only living witness from the time. She has not publicly commented on calls for her prosecution.

Contacted by The AP on Wednesday, Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks said: "This is the first time I've known about a warrant."

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

"I will see if I can get a copy of the warrant and get with the DA and get their opinion on it," Banks said. If the warrant can still be served, Banks said, he would have to talk to law enforcement officers in the state where Donham lives.

District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, whose office would prosecute a case, declined comment on the warrant but cited a December report about the Till case from the Justice Department, which said no prosecution was possible.

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