In Mississippi, a grand jury has opted not to indict the white woman whose allegations led to the lynching of African American teenager Emmett Till almost 70 years ago, despite recent discoveries related to an unexecuted arrest warrant and an unreleased memoir by the woman, according to a prosecutor on Tuesday.
Following more than seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses, the Leflore County grand jury concluded last week that there was insufficient evidence to charge Carolyn Bryant Donham with kidnapping and manslaughter. As a result, it becomes increasingly improbable that Donham, presently in her 80s, will ever be held accountable for her part in the events that resulted in Till’s lynching.
Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., Till’s cousin, labelled the decision as “unfortunate but predictable,” expressing his sentiments via a CBS News statement. Despite the prosecutor’s best efforts, which he appreciated, Parker emphasised that nothing could change centuries of anti-Black systems that ensured those responsible for Till’s death remained unpunished to this day. The perpetrators who tortured and murdered Emmett continue to go free, protected by an American justice system designed in their favour.
Representatives of Donham’s son Tom Bryant did not immediately respond on Tuesday when reached for comment through email and voicemail. Back in June, a team searching the Leflore County Courthouse basement uncovered an unserved arrest warrant. The warrant charged Donham, then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law J.W. Milam with kidnapping Till in 1955. Though the men were apprehended and later acquitted on murder charges following Till’s murder, Donham – aged 21 at the time and now 87 – was never arrested.
The Associated Press came into possession of Donham’s unpublished memoir last month, where she claimed ignorance of what would ultimately transpire regarding the 14-year-old Till. During his stay with Mississippi relatives, Till, a Chicago native, was kidnapped, murdered and thrown into a river. Donham accused him of making obscene remarks and grabbing her while she was working alone at her family’s store in Money, Mississippi. Donham purportedly prevented further harm to Till by denying his identity when the men presented him to her for verification after abducting him in the night. According to her account, Till had willingly identified himself to his kidnappers, despite being taken at gunpoint from his family home.
Days later, Till’s horrifically injured and disfigured body was discovered in a river, weighed down by a heavy metal fan. The emotional impact of Till’s open-casket funeral in Chicago, as demanded by his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, served to amplify the growing civil rights movement. In a statement on Tuesday, Reverend Parker declared that no family should have to endure such agony for so long. He urged people to remember and honour Emmett Till and Mamie Mobley in order to combat racial violence, enhance the judicial system and promote dignity and respect among one another.
Last year, the US Justice Department concluded its investigation into Till’s murder without any indictments. Nevertheless, following inquiries about whether charges could be filed against living individuals related to the case, it had opened an investigation in 2004. Though the statute of limitations for federal crimes had expired, the FBI collaborated with state investigators to determine if state charges were possible. In February 2007, however, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone involved, and the Justice Department consequently announced the case’s closure.