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Emmett Till’s Relatives Seek Prosecution of His Accuser for 1955 Kidnapping: NPR

Carolyn Bryant, who began the Emmett Till case by accusing the Black teenager of improper advances in 1955, rested her head on the shoulder of her husband Roy Bryant on September 22, 1955, after she testified in Emmett Till murder court case in Sumner Today, Emmett Till’s relatives and activists want authorities to prosecute the kidnapping case for Carolyn Bryant.

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Carolyn Bryant, who began the Emmett Till case by accusing the Black teenager of improper advances in 1955, rested her head on the shoulder of her husband Roy Bryant on September 22, 1955, after she testified in Emmett Till murder court case in Sumner Today, Emmett Till’s relatives and activists want authorities to prosecute the kidnapping case for Carolyn Bryant.

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Mixed in their calls for a new investigation into the murder of Emmett Till, relatives and activists are advocating another possible path toward accountability in Mississippi: They want authorities charged with prosecuting the kidnapping case against the woman who caused the murder by accusing a black Chicago teen of inappropriate advances in 1955.

Carolyn Bryant Donham was named nearly 67 years ago in a subpoena accusing her of Till’s kidnapping, even before his overturned body was found in the river, FBI records show, but she’s has never been arrested or brought to trial in a case that shocked the world for its brutality.

Authorities at the time said the woman had two young children and they did not want to disturb her. Donham’s then-husband and another man were acquitted of murder.

Make no mistake: Till’s relatives still prefer being charged with murder. But there is no evidence that a kidnapping warrant has been dismissed, so a kidnapping warrant can be used to arrest Donham and eventually bring her before criminal court, said Jaribu Hill, an attorney who works with the court. Till’s family said.

“This order is a stepping stone towards that,” she said. “Because the subpoena doesn’t expire, we’d like to see it served to her.”

There are many barriers. Witnesses have died in the decades since Till was in custody, and it’s unclear what happened to the evidence gathered by investigators. Even the location of the original warrant is a mystery. It may have been in old court filings in Leflore County, Mississippi, where the kidnapping took place.

A relative of Till said it would have been a long time since someone had arrested Donham for Till’s kidnapping, if not for the murder.

“Mississippi is not the Mississippi of 1955, but it still seems to be part of the era of protecting white women,” said Deborah Watts, a distant cousin of Till who runs the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

Now in her 80s and most recently living in Raleigh, North Carolina, Donham has not publicly commented on calls for her prosecution. Dale Killinger, a retired FBI agent who questioned her more than 15 years ago, said she apparently didn’t know she was being held on arrest warrants in Till’s kidnapping until decades later.

“I don’t think she remembers that,” he said. “She acted surprisingly.”

The Justice Department ended its most recent investigation into the murder in December, when it said Donham denied an author’s claim that she had retracted her statements about Till. do something wrong with her in the shop where she works in Money town. Authorities said the writer was unable to produce any audio recordings or recordings to substantiate the allegation.

By March, relatives had met with officials including District Attorney Dewayne Richardson, lead prosecutor in Leflore County, but were still not satisfied, Watts said. “There didn’t seem to be the determination or the courage to do what needed to be done,” she said.

Richardson had been in office for about 15 years and was the first black man to serve as president of the Mississippi Prosecutors’ Association. He did not return phone messages or emails seeking comment on a potential kidnapping case.

Keith Beauchamp, a filmmaker whose documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” preceded a new Justice Department investigation that ended without charge in 2007, said there was enough evidence to prosecute Donham.

Beauchamp said: “If we are to say that we are a country of truth and justice, we must obtain truth and justice … regardless of the age or gender of the person involved.

The stories of events leading up to Till’s murder have changed over the years, but the woman known at the time as Carolyn Bryant has always been at the center of it, author Devery Anderson, who had obtained the original FBI files on the case during his 2015 research. the book “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Fueled the Civil Rights Movement.”

Till was a 14-year-old boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi when he entered the store on August 24, 1955; Donham, then 21 years old, was working inside. A relative of Till who was there at the time, Wheeler Parker, told the Associated Press that Till whistled at the woman. Donham testified that Till grabbed her.

Two nights later, Donham’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, show up armed at the country house of Mose Wright, Till’s great-uncle, in search of the young man. .

In 1955, Wright testified that a person whose voice was “softer” than a man’s was identified as Till from inside a pickup truck and his kidnappers took him away. Other evidence in the FBI files shows that earlier that night, Donham had told her husband that at least two other Black men were not suitable.

Authorities obtained subpoenas for the kidnapping of the two men and Donham before Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River, FBI records show, but police never arrested Donham.

“We’re not going to bother the woman,” Leflore County Sheriff George Smith told reporters, “she has two young boys to take care of.”

Roy Bryant and Milam were quickly indicted for the murder, and they were acquitted by an all-white grand jury in Tallahatchie County about two weeks later.

Grand juries in neighboring Leflore County refused to indict these men for the subsequent kidnapping, effectively ending the threat of prosecution against Roy Bryant and Milam. Both men have been dead for decades, leaving Donham as the only survivor directly involved.

Killinger, a retired federal agent, said he did not see the original order during the investigation nor any indication that it had ever been rescinded by a court, and it was unclear if it could be repealed. used today to arrest or try Donham or not. Even if authorities were to identify the initial paperwork with oaths detailing the evidence, the courts would still need witnesses to testify, he said.

“And I understand that all of those people are dead,” says Killinger.

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