Emmett Till’s relatives file a lawsuit seeking the arrest of a white woman
- US News
- February 11, 2023
- No Comment
JACKSON, Ms. (AP) – A relative of Emmett Till is suing to try to get a Mississippi sheriff to serve a 1955 warrant against a white woman in the kidnapping that led to the black teenager’s brutal lynching.
The torture and killing of Till in the Mississippi Delta became a catalyst for the civil rights movement after his mother insisted on an open-coffin burial in Chicago and Jet magazine published photos of his mutilated body.
Last June, a team investigating the courthouse in Leflore County, Mississippi, found an undelivered warrant for Carolyn Bryant’s 1955 arrest, referred to in the document as “Mrs. Roy Bryant.”
Till’s cousin Patricia Sterling of Jackson, Mississippi, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against current Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks. The lawsuit aims to force Banks to serve out the warrant for Carolyn Bryant, who has since remarried and is named Carolyn Bryant Donham.
“We are using the resources at our disposal to seek justice on behalf of the Till family,” Sterling’s attorney Trent Walker told The Associated Press on Friday.
The AP left a phone message for Banks on Friday, asking for comment. The sheriff didn’t respond immediately. Court records showed the lawsuit had not been served on him as of Friday.
FILE – This 1955 file photo shows Carolyn Bryant. A relative of Emmett Till filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to compel current Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks to serve a warrant for his arrest against Bryant in the kidnapping that led to the brutal 1955 lynching.
AP Photo/Gene Herrick, file
In August 1955, 14-year-old Till had traveled south from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi. Donham accused him of making improper advances to her at a grocery store in the small community of Money. A cousin of Till who was there said Till whistled at the woman, an act contrary to Mississippi’s racist social code of the time.
Evidence suggests that a woman, possibly Donham, identified Till to the men who later killed him. The warrant for Donham’s arrest was issued in 1955, but the Leflore County sheriff at the time told reporters he didn’t want to “molest” the woman since she was raising two young children.
Weeks after Till’s body was found in a river, her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, were charged with murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. Months later, the men confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine.
Donham, now in her late 80s, has lived in North Carolina and Kentucky for the past several years. She has not commented publicly on calls for her indictment.
The US Department of Justice announced in December 2021 that it had closed its recent investigation into the lynching of Till without charging anyone.
After investigators found the warrant last June, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office said in July there was no new evidence supporting an attempt to pursue a criminal case against Donham. In August, a district attorney said a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict Donham.
Walker, the attorney for Till’s cousin, said Friday that the South had a history of violent cases that did not go to trial until decades later — including the 1963 killing of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, for which the white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of murder in 1994.
“Emmett would not have been murdered were it not for Carolyn Bryant, who would have falsely claimed to her husband that Emmett Till had assaulted her,” Sterling’s lawsuit states. “It was Carolyn Bryant’s lie that enraged Roy Bryant and JW Milam, resulting in the mutilation of Emmett Till’s body into (an) unrecognizable state.”