In late June, a team searching a Mississippi courthouse basement for evidence surrounding the lynching of Emmett Till found an unserved warrant. The warrant, certified as authentic by a Leflore County clerk on June 21, charged a white woman in the 1955 kidnapping of the Black teenager.

Nearly 70 years later, Till’s relatives and advocates want justice. 

The white woman in question, Carolyn Bryant Donham—listed as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the warrant—is now about 87 years old and living in Raleigh. At the time of the slaying, Donham was married to one of the two white men who were tried and acquitted in the weeks after 14-year-old Till was abducted from a bed in a relative’s home, murdered, and dumped in a river.

Though Bryant Donham’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam were both acquitted by the all-white jury, they later confessed to the murder and were named alongside Carolyn Bryant Donham in the kidnapping warrant. Both have since died. 

The team that found the unserved warrant included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and two of Till’s relatives: cousin Deborah Watts and her daughter, Teri Watts. Relatives want to use the warrant to arrest Donham. Keith Beauchamp, who created the documentary film The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, says there’s enough new evidence to prosecute her. 

Till was accused of whistling at Donham while at the local market owned by the Donhams; just a few days later, his body was found mutilated in the Tallahatchie River. Till’s death laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement after his mother chose to hold him an open-casket funeral, which ignited nationwide shock, anger, and a deeper understanding of life for Black communities in the South. 

In Duke University historian Tim Tyson’s 2017 book, The Blood of Emmett Till, Tyson recounted a 2008 interview he did with Donham—one of the only ones she has done since the murder—in which she allegedly recanted her original witness stand claims that Till had grabbed her and made suggestive remarks, stating, “You tell these stories for so long that they seem true, but that part is not true.” 

Last Friday afternoon, civil rights activists gathered in Raleigh at the district attorney’s office calling for Donham’s arrest. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told the News and Observer this weekend that she is waiting to hear from the Leflore County’s District Attorney’s Office, which is the Mississippi jurisdiction for the case, before taking any action.

If the district attorney there plans to move forward, Freeman said she plans to work with Mississippi to bring Donham to justice after almost 70 years of delay.

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