I wasn’t born during that time in 1955, but as a child, I read about the brutal murder that took place in Money, Mississippi, of a 14-year-old, visiting from Chicago, named Emmett Till. Emmett allegedly whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. A few days later, he was kidnapped, tortured, and killed. I can recall staring at the picture of a mutilated Emmett, lying in the casket, with such sadness, which was immediately followed by anger and asking myself how could anyone do this to a human being, let alone a child? That picture stuck with me for a long time. I thought of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and the grief and anguish she must have felt; yet her incredibly courageous decision to have an open-casket funeral for all the world to see what was done to her son. Jet Magazine first published the photograph.
Emmett’s death was a spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement. Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were put on trial for killing him, but in spite of strong evidence against them, they were acquitted in about an hour by an all-white jury. Typical outcome then; sad to say typical outcome now. In a 1956 interview with Look Magazine, Bryant and Milam admitted to a reporter that they had tortured and murdered Emmett. They were paid $4,000 for their story. Both are now deceased.
In the Spring of 2004, the U.S. Justice Department opened a new investigation, as part of its Cold Case Initiative, largely in part because of Keith Beauchamp, a filmmaker based in Brooklyn. Beauchamp began researching and writing for a documentary about Emmett in the late 1990s. However, in 2007, a grand jury in Leflore County, Mississippi declined to indict anyone further. Again, the department reopened the case in 2017 after a Duke University historian, Timothy Tyson, published a book, “The Blood of Emmett Till”. In the book, Tyson alleged that Carolyn Bryant had recanted her testimony, but Bryant denied to the FBI that she ever recanted her testimony. So Tyson was unable to produce any recordings or transcripts in which Carolyn Bryant allegedly admitted to lying about her encounter with Emmett. The DOJ officially closed the case in December 2021.
Now, here we are, once again, with new evidence, 67 years later. A newly discovered, unserved arrest warrant, dated August 29, 1955, was found in the basement of a courthouse in Mississippi’s Leflore County (Greenwood, Mississippi). The warrant was meant for a “Mrs. Roy Bryant”, who is Carolyn Bryant, now known as Carolyn Bryant Donham. The search group included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and two Till relatives: cousin Deborah Watts, head of the foundation, and her daughter, Teri Watts. Relatives want authorities to use the warrant to arrest Donham, who is now 87 and living in Raleigh, North Carolina as recently as May, according to public records. However, it is unclear whether this warrant will drive any legal actions.
Ever since knowing about Emmett Till’s murder, I’ve longed for the day when we would see justice. I am angered that absolutely no one has been convicted for this horrific crime after so many years. Again, typical outcomes during that era, but still. Honestly, I have mixed emotions about this recent development. On the one hand, I want to see justice, but it angers me that the two men responsible for this heinous hate crime got off scot-free and are dead now and Donham has spent her entire life without any repercussions. On the other hand, I think what would be the purpose of an arrest now? Timothy Tyson said he is glad for any justice that can be wrung out in Till’s case. I won’t hold my breath, but we shall see.
Janet Downs| Janet Downs is an instructor with over 20 years of experience, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. She volunteers and is a resource for the homeless community and is working towards starting her own non-profit. She’s passionate about mental health and seeks to bring more awareness to the black community. She is active in church ministry, a writer, and loves music, hiking, and travel.