We all know the story of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the vicious white monsters who tortured and killed him, and the racist white woman who set it all in motion. We know the white men were acquitted of the murder and that they admitted to it later but died before either of them would ever be held accountable (not that they likely would have been if they lived). We also know that Black America has been calling for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman whose lies and racism got a Black chile brutally lynched.
What we didn’t know, however, is that in 1955, a warrant for Donham’s arrest was actually drawn but never served. She could have been arrested and charged in connection to Emmett’s death, but America chose to be America instead.
According to the Associated Press, a team searching a Mississippi courthouse basement for new evidence regarding Emmett’s lynching found the unserved warrant charging Donham in his kidnapping and now members of Emmett’s family are calling for the warrant to finally be served.
A warrant for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham — identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the document — was discovered last week by searchers inside a file folder that had been placed in a box, Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Documents are kept inside boxes by decade, he said, but there was nothing else to indicate where the warrant, dated Aug. 29, 1955, might have been.
“They narrowed it down between the ’50s and ’60s and got lucky,” said Stockstill, who certified the warrant as genuine.
The search group included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, Keith Beauchamp, the creator of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till—a documentary that prompted a new Justice Department probe into Emmett’s killing, which ended in 2007 with no charges being filed—and two of Emmett’s relatives, Legacy Foundation leader Deborah Watts and her daughter, Teri Watts.
“Serve it and charge her,” Teri told AP. “This is what the state of Mississippi needs to go ahead.”
Some legal experts appear to be skeptical that anything will come of this discovery, but they don’t seem to think it’s absolutely hopeless.
More from AP:
Arrest warrants can “go stale” due to the passage of time and changing circumstances, and one from 1955 almost certainly wouldn’t pass muster before a court, even if a sheriff agreed to serve it, said Ronald J. Rychlak, a law professor at the University of Mississippi.
But combined with any new evidence, the original arrest warrant “absolutely” could be an important stepping stone toward establishing probable cause for a new prosecution, he said.
“If you went in front of a judge you could say, ‘Once upon a time a judge determined there was probable cause, and much more information is available today,’” Rychlak said.
Then there’s the question of why the warrant, which also named Emmett’s killers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, was never served at the time it was drawn. Of course, it’s a question with a predictable answer: Law enforcement just didn’t care about a dead Black child. According to AP, “the Leflore County sheriff told reporters he did not want to ‘bother’ the woman since she had two young children to care for.”
On Wednesday, the current Leflore County Sheriff, Ricky Banks, told AP he had no knowledge of the newly discovered warrant, but he “will see if I can get a copy of the warrant and get with the DA and get their opinion on it.”
I’m just going to go ahead and say that Black America shouldn’t hold its breath in hopes that an old white woman in her 80s will finally be brought to justice for causing Emmett Till’s merciless death, but that doesn’t mean we should quit calling for it.
“Serve it and charge her.” And convict her at last.