Emmett Till Relative Files Lawsuit Seeking Arrest of White Woman Whose Claims Led to His Lynching

Emmett Till
Mamie Till-Bradley weeps as the body of her murdered 14-year-old son, Emmett Louis Till, arrives at Chicago Rail Station, in 1955.Getty

The brutal kidnapping and lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 was sparked by the claims of a white woman who said the Black teen grabbed and threatened her.

A cousin of Emmett Till has filed a lawsuit seeking to compel a Mississippi sheriff to arrest the white woman whose claims that Till accosted her sparked the Black teen's brutal kidnapping and lynching 1955.

The relative, Patricia Sterling of Jackson, Mississippi, filed a federal lawsuit last week against current Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks. The suit seeks to force Banks to serve a recently discovered arrest warrant on Carolyn Bryant, who has since remarried and is named Carolyn Bryant Donham.

The woman was married to Roy Bryant, and the couple ran Bryant's Grocery & Meat Market, which sold provisions to Black sharecroppers in the tiny Mississippi town of Money, deep in cotton country. Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, were ultimately tried and acquitted of kidnapping and killing Till.

The 14-year-old had come south from his Chicago home to visit Mississippi relatives. What happened the day he visited the Bryant's small store has many versions. Till's cousin, who went with him to the market, said Till whistled at the white woman.

In the middle of the night, Till was jerked from bed at his great-uncle's home, driven away and beaten and shot in the head. He was tied with barbed wire to a 70-pound metal fan and dumped in the Tallahatchie River.

His bloated and broken body was found three days later.

His murder helped galvanize the Civil Rights movement, after his mother held an open-casket funeral in Chicago that was attended by hundreds and was photographed by Jet magazine. The boy's unrecognizable body was a gruesome sight. "Let them see what they did to my baby," his mother declared.

In June of last year, researchers and Till family members discovered an arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant in the basement of the Leflore County courthouse. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in July there was no new evidence to pursue a criminal case against the woman, who is now 89 and has been reportedly living in North Carolina and Kentucky.

In August, a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict her, saying there was not enough evidence, according to the county prosecutor.

“But for Carolyn Bryant falsely claiming to her husband that Emmett Till assaulted her, Emmett would not have been murdered,” the newly filed lawsuit says. “It was Carolyn Bryant’s lie that sent Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam into a rage, which resulted in the mutilation of Emmett Till’s body into (an) unrecognizable condition," the lawsuit says.

Milam and his half-brother are both dead. 

“We are using the available means at our disposal to try to achieve justice on behalf of the Till family,” Sterling’s attorney, Trent Walker, told The Associated Press on Friday.

Inside Edition Digital left a message seeking comment from the Leflore County Sheriff's Office on Monday.

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