‘Serve It and Charge Her’: Arrest Warrant for Emmett Till’s Accuser Found 70 Years Later

Last week, a group searching a Mississippi courthouse located an arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant Donham — the white woman whose false assault accusations against Emmett Till led to the 14-year-old’s lynching in 1955 Mississippi.

The Mississippi Free Press reported that the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and filmmaker Keith Beauchamp made the discovery at the Leflore County Courthouse on June 21. The warrant sought to charge Donham for kidnapping alongside her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam. The two men were charged in connection with Till’s slaying but were acquitted.

The warrant was located in an archived file folder, which was placed in a box in the courthouse’s basement, Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill told the Associated Press. The document was dated August 29, 1955 — a day after Till’s kidnapping and lynching.

Stockstill explained that documents were kept in boxes by decade, and the searchers “narrowed it down between the ’50s and ’60s and got lucky.” Stockstill told the Associated Press that the warrant is genuine.

“Serve it and charge her,” Teri Watts, Till’s cousin who heads his legacy organization, told the news outlet.

Till was from Chicago and visiting family in Mississippi when Donham, a 21-year-old cashier, accused him of whistling at her while he bought bubble gum. Bryant and Milam were accused of tracking down Till before they shot and beat him to death. Till was found in the river with a cotton gin fan tied to his neck with barbed wire.

An all-white, all-male jury acquitted Bryant and Milam for the gruesome crime in September 1955 after a mere hour of deliberation. Following their acquittal, the pair admitted to Look magazine — for about $3,000 — to mutilating Till before sinking his body in a local river. Roy Bryant and Milam have since died.

A federal investigation was opened into the 14-year-old’s slaying in July 2018, a year after Professor Timothy Tyson released “The Blood of Emmett Till.” In the 2017 book, Tyson alleges that Till’s accuser, Donham, then 72, told him in 2007 that she lied about crucial aspects of her testimony.

In December 2021, the Justice Department closed its second investigation into the case. Allegations revealed in Tyson’s book reportedly led federal investigators to question Donham again to determine whether she recanted her prior testimony and what information she could offer that could lead to charges for any other possible accomplices.

During that meeting, Donham reportedly denied recanting her testimony to Tyson. According to reports, Donham’s comments to Tyson were not recorded or transcribed, and the author provided conflicting statements about whether a recording actually existed. Tyson allegedly took some notes about their conversation, but he failed to provide a solid timeline about when the confession occurred.

According to Tyson, Donham said she felt “tender sorrow” for Mamie Till-Mobley — the slain teen’s mother who died in 2003.

“When Carolyn herself [later] lost one of her sons, she thought about the grief that Mamie must have felt and grieved all the more,” Tyson told Vanity Fair in 2017.

The Justice Department opened its original investigation but closed it 2007, finding nobody could face charges on the federal level due to the statute of limitations and available evidence.

Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket funeral and allowed Jet magazine to publish photographs of her son’s disfigured and bloated corpse to call attention to what happened to her son. The unsettling photos are widely credited with sparking the American civil rights movement.

Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks told the Associated Press that he first learned of the warrant against Donham on Wednesday.

He commented, “I will see if I can get a copy of the warrant and get with the DA and get their opinion on it.”

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[Featured image: Emmett Till/AP Photo, File]