Emmett Till’s family is still seeking justice today after a prosecutor announced a Mississippi grand jury will not indict Carolyn Bryant, the white woman whose accusation led to the lynching of the Black teenager almost 70 years ago.
A prosecutor said an arrest warrant went unserved, along with other revelations that came to light in her unpublished memoir.
A news release from Leflore County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson announced the grand jury’s decision August 9, 2022. It said the grand jury considered evidence and testimony regarding Carolyn Bryant Donham’s involvement in the kidnapping and death of Till, and found insufficient evidence to indict her on kidnapping and manslaughter charges. The grand jury heard more than seven hours of testimony presented in the case.
Here’s what you need to know:
Emmitt Till’s Family Members Started the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation to Fight for Justice & Preserve His Memory
The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation was created by members of Till’s family to fight for justice for the 14-year-old boy. One of its leaders, Till’s cousin, Deborah Watts, told the Associated Press after new evidence surfaced in the case that she thought justice may be served.
“I truly believe these developments cannot be ignored by the authorities in Mississippi,” she told the AP in July 2022.
Till was with several of his cousins during the events that led to his murder. He lived in Chicago, but was visiting family in the Mississippi Delta. There, Carolyn Bryant and her then-husband Roy Bryant ran a small grocery, Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, which sold to Black sharecroppers and their children, according to PBS. Till and his cousins went to the store after picking cotton in the hot sun August 24, 1955, entering the store one or two at a time to buy drinks and treats. Till bought 2 cents of bubblegum. What happened next is a matter of dispute, according to PBS, some accounts said Bryant stormed out of the store and one of the children said she was going to get a pistol. The children scattered.
“Carolyn told her sister-in-law, Juanita, who was in the back of the store with their children, what had happened. They agreed not to tell their husbands, who were out of town on a trucking job,” PBS reported. “When Roy and J. W. returned, one of the kids at the scene told them what had occurred. In the Deep South—where the separation between blacks and whites was defined by law, Roy and his half-brother decided Emmett needed to be taught a lesson.”
Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till, died in 2003.
An Unserved Warrant for ‘Mrs. Roy Bryant’ Spurred the Grand Jury Investigation
After an unserved warrant issued for a “Mrs. Roy Bryant” was discovered, Till’s family called that Bryant face justice nearly 70 years after the killing.
“The family wants Carolyn Bryant to face justice,” Till’s cousin, Patricia Sterling told reporters in a July 2022 press conference. “We want her to at least come here and defend herself.”
But the grand jury found the evidence was insufficient to press charges against Bryant Donham, who is 88 years old now. Read more about her life today here.
The original unserved arrest warrant for Donham was found in July in the basement of the Leflore County courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi, according to Mississippi Today. Officials told the FBI about the discovery and local and federal partners discussed how to proceed.
“Serve it and charge her,” Teri Watts, daughter of Till’s cousin, Deborah Watts, told the Associated Press in an interview.
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