Jun 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Discovery of 1955 warrant in Emmett Till's murder sparks calls for arrest

Photo of Emmett Till's gravestone

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery on May 4, 2005 in Aslip, Illinois. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The discovery of a 1955 warrant charging a white woman for kidnapping in Emmett Till's case has spurred calls for an arrest and answers, AP reports.

Why it matters: In 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam lynched Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, after Bryant's wife Carolyn Bryant Donham accused Till of grabbing and propositioning her despite witness accounts saying he whistled at her. His family now wants authorities to use the unserved warrant to arrest Donham.

  • "Serve it and charge her," Teri Watts, one of Till's relatives, told AP. "This is what the state of Mississippi needs to go ahead."
  • Donham, now in her 80s, most recently lived in North Carolina.
  • The warrant for kidnapping, which was found in a box in a Mississippi courthouse basement and certified by a local county clerk, was made public at the time of Till's murder, but AP notes that the then-Leflore County sheriff claimed he hadn't wanted to "bother" her since she had two young kids.

Catch up quick: Till crossed paths with Donham, who was then 20, in Mississippi at the grocery store she ran with her husband.

  • Within days, Donham's husband and brother-in-law abducted and lynched Till after brutally mutilating his body.
  • An all-white jury cleared the two white men in 1955, though they admitted to killing Till in an interview a year later.
  • In 2008, Donham reportedly recanted her allegation that Till harassed her prior to his murder, though federal investigators say she later denied doing so.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Russell Contreras: The discovery of the unserved warrant breathes new life into the nearly 70-year-old case after the U.S. Department of Justice last year formally closed its second investigation into the 1955 murder.

  • The unsolved Till case helped spark the civil rights movement but it exposed the systemic racism in the justice system that many feel still exists today.
  • The murder of Till still haunts the nation because of the violence Black children face today but also because there are always excuses why people today can't be held accountable for the lynching of a child.

Go deeper: Biden signs into law first anti-lynching bill in U.S. history

Go deeper