A document found in a Mississippi court house has some hoping that charges can be filed against the only living person connected with the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
Till was a black 14-year-old who was beaten to death in Mississippi after a white woman claimed he whistled at her when he was in the store she was operating.
As the civil rights movement developed, Till’s murder was cited as a factor in black Americans organizing for racial justice, according to The New York Times.
A 1955 arrest warrant found in the basement of a courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi, sought the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham, who at the time was the wife of a man who has long admitted beating Till to death.
The warrant was never served.
The warrant, dated Aug. 29, 1955, charges Donham, identified on the warrant as Mrs. Roy Bryant, Roy Bryant himself, and J. W. Milam, who was Bryant’s half-brother, with kidnapping. Leflore County Circuit Court Clerk Elmus Stockstill has certified that the document is authentic.
The three did “willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and without lawful authority, forcibly seize and confine and kidnap Emmitt Lewis Tell,” an affidavit attached to the warrant said.
A notation on the warrant said Donham was not in the county at the time and therefore not arrested.
Bryant and Milam were acquitted by an all-white jury, but Donham was never tried.
The men, both of whom are dead, admitted killing Till.
Keith A. Beauchamp, who directed a 2005 documentary about Till’s death, helped find the warrant, which he called “a jackpot.”
“I hope that the authorities will do the job they were suppose to do in 1955,” he said in an email to The Times.
Beauchamp said that relatives and supporters of Till found the document.
“There were a lot of tears in the room,” he said.
Donham, now 88, lives in North Carolina.
Experts said the warrant was unlikely to spark legal repercussions.
“Relying upon a 67-year-old warrant, while it’s an interesting academic exercise, I think would be unsound police work,” said Ronald J. Rychlak, a law professor at the University of Mississippi. “Why would you rely on a 67-year-old warrant if you think you have the cause today to justify it?”
Published accounts have said Donham has recanted her testimony, and past efforts to build a case have faltered for lack of evidence.
In a 1956 article later reproduced on the PBS website, the full story of Till’s murder was recounted. But by then, Bryant and Milam had already been acquitted.
Till, who was born in 1941 in Chicago, was visiting Mississippi. After the incident, he was abducted, beaten and then killed, with his body dumped in the Tallahatchie River. When his body was found, the evidence of his beating was clear.
Roughly three months after Till was murdered, he was on the mind of a then-unknown woman named Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus.
She later explained one part of her reasoning: “I thought of Emmett Till and I couldn’t go back.”
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