By Clark Gerhartsreiter, Contributing Writer
Carolyn Bryant Donham was 21 years old when Emmett Till, 14, was murdered in Leflore County, Mississippi.
The woman claimed that Till whistled at her and touched her. Her allegations were linked to the murder of Till on August 28, 1955.
Now, 67 years later, questions have arisen anew as to whether justice was ever served. A Leflore grand jury declined to indict the woman, now 87, on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter, according to an article by Michael Goldberg and Allen G. Breed of the Associated Press.
“The prosecutor tried his best, and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years of anti-Black systems that guarantee those who killed Emmett Till would go unpunished, to this day,” said the Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., Till’s cousin and the last living witness in the case.
Deborah Watts of the Emmett Till Foundation, a third cousin of Till, said, “[Donham] has escaped any accountability in this case… So the grand jury’s decision is disappointing, but we’re still going to be calling for justice for Emmett Till.
“It’s not over,” she added.
At the time, Donham’s then-husband Roy Bryant and another man, J. W. Milam, stood trial for Till’s murder, but an all-white jury acquitted them. A search of the courthouse archives last June revealed a 67-year-old unserved arrest warrant for Donham. Police never took her into custody, said the article.
In an unpublished memoir obtained by the AP, Donham wrote that she had tried to help Till. She said she denied to Milam and Bryant that Till was the person who had whistled at her and touched her.
She claimed that Till then voluntarily identified himself as the person for whom they had searched, the article said.
Bryant and Milam later admitted to the abduction and killing in an interview with Look magazine. Despite the alleged post-acquittal confession, the pair faced no further charges and have long since died, the AP reported.
At Till’s funeral in Chicago, Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, decided to open Till’s coffin, which revealed the gruesome injuries he suffered. An autopsy revealed Till had died of a gunshot wound to the head, and that he had suffered fractures to his wrist bones, skull, and femur. According to the article, Till’s battered and disfigured body was found in a river, weighted down by a heavy metal fan.
Several law enforcement efforts to pursue the case went nowhere. The AP said that in 2004, the U.S. Dept. of Justice looked into Till’s killing but the statute of limitations had run out on any federal crime, and last year, federal officials closed all investigations because of “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Donham] lied to the FBI.”
State charges also went nowhere. In February 2007, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict anyone.