White Woman Whose Accusation Led to Emmett Till's Lynching Will Not Be Indicted, Miss. Grand Jury Decides
The latest pursuit of justice comes after an unserved warrant for Carolyn Bryant Donham's arrest for the abduction of 14-year-old Emmett Till was discovered in the Leflore County Courthouse basement.
A Mississippi grand jury has declined to indict Emmett TIll’s accuser, a prosecutor said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. Carolyn Bryant Donham, who is white, had been facing possible charges of kidnapping and manslaughter after her accusation led to the Black teenager’s lynching almost 70 years ago.
The Leflore County grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to indict Donham, now in her 80s, the AP reported. This comes following a renewed investigation by the Department of Justice closed last December and the Mississippi Attorney General stating last month that there’s “no new evidence to open the case back up,” according to Chief of Staff Michelle Williams, the AP reported.
Many civil rights activists like Emmett's cousin Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., are calling the outcome, "unfortunate, but predictable," he said in a statement. "
The renewed vigor to seek justice for the 14-year-old boy’s murder comes after a search of the Leflore County Courthouse basement uncovered an unserved arrest warrant charging Donham, her then-husband Roy Bryant, and her brother-in-law J.W. Milham in Till’s abduction in 1955, according to the AP. The men were arrested and acquitted for Emmett’s murder, but Donham was never arrested or taken into custody.
Emmett was kidnapped and murdered after Donham, 21 at the time, accused Emmett of touching her hand and making lewd comments as he attempted to pay for candy at the store she worked. His disfigured body was found days later in the river, and his mom’s decision to host an open casket funeral added fuel to the civil rights movement already underway.
Till's cousins, who had been at the store with them that day, said Till wolf-whistled at her, but denied that he touched her or said anything else to her, according to reports.
A draft of Donham’s unpublished memoir, revealed by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting (MCIR) last month, also reportedly unveiled contradictory statements given by Donham at the time.
While Donham’s original statement claimed that she told her husband “it was not the one who had insulted me” when he asked her to confirm Till’s identity, the unpublished memoir stated that Till “flashed me a strange smile and said, ‘Yes it was me,’” MCIR reported.
Donham had originally made an agreement with a historian at the University of North Carolina to keep the memoir sealed until 2023, until the historian instead decided to hand over a draft to the FBI, CNN reported. "I decided that if there was going to be a re-investigation, that criminal justice outweighs the archival agreement," historian Timothy Tyson told CNN.
The Till family remains mixed as to whether or not the draft memoir should be published, CNN reported. “There's a lot of information there that points to her culpability, and it should be used as new evidence of her culpability," Till family attorney Jaribu Hill told CNN. ”But at the same time, the memoir is just rife with making her look like the victim, making her look like someone who was a victim of the times, and clueless, but our position remains that she intentionally participated in the kidnapping.”
Donham and her family have not commented on the latest grand jury decision, the unpublished memoir or her 1955 accusation.
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