Arrest warrant in Emmett Till case found in Mississippi court basement after 67 years

Chicago Tribune file photo/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

(LEFLORE COUNTY, Miss.) -- Advocates and some relatives of Emmett Till are pushing for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham after finding an unserved arrest warrant for kidnapping, an attached affidavit from Moses Wright, and court minutes from 1955 in the basement of a Leflore County courthouse last month.

Some gathered at a Mississippi court clerk's office on Thursday to look over a copy of the warrant and discuss next steps in their "mission" to see that warrant executed. Earlier that day, protestors in Raleigh, North Carolina, entered a senior living facility in search of Bryant Donham.

Keith Beauchamp, director of the movie, Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, is another seeking immediate action. He told ABC News that he and a team from the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, including co-founder and Till's cousin Deborah Watts, went to Mississippi to check if the warrant had ever been rescinded, but came across the documents in an unmarked box, seemingly untouched for over sixty years.

Beauchamp said he is looking to state law enforcement for prosecution on the kidnapping charge in an effort to hold Bryant Donham, 88, accountable for her alleged role in the lynching of 14-year-old Till. The Department of Justice first opened an investigation into Till's murder under its Cold Case Initiative in 2004, but stated it lacked jurisdiction to raise federal charges.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg," Beauchamp said. "I want people to understand that this is not a complicated case…I thought it was impossible to get the case reopened in 2004. But it happened."

"Let's follow the law and make sure that justice is done in this case," he added.

In 1955, 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant accused the teenager, who was visiting from Chicago, of whistling at her after leaving a store, Bryant's Grocery & Meat Market. Till was later abducted from his great-uncle Moses Wright's home by Carolyn Bryant's husband Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam.

Till's brutalized remains were found days later in the Tallahatchie River. Mamie Till Mobley's decision to have photos from her son's open casket funeral published in Jet magazine catalyzed the civil rights movement.

The two men were indicted on kidnapping and murder charges, but later acquitted by an all-white jury. Rev. Wheeler Parker, Till's cousin, was there the night he was kidnapped. He has worked for years to see justice for Till For him, the rediscovery of the warrant "is only a headline, not evidence."

"For nearly 67 years, I have sought justice in the brutal lynching of my cousin and best friend, Emmett Till. We accepted the determination of the government that there was not sufficient evidence to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham," he said in a statement to ABC News.

The Department of Justice closed its 2017 re-investigation of Till's murder in December 2021. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division declined ABC News' request for comment on this recent development.

"I would be overjoyed if that woman could be held accountable for this horrible crime. If she can be compelled merely to tell the truth, I would even support that," Parker said. "To me, there is a measure of justice in that, too."

"We need to send a message that it doesn't matter how long you live, if you commit a hate crime, eventually the law will catch up to you. But we don't want to keep raising our hopes just to have them dashed again -- if it's not going to lead to justice."

ABC News' Fatima Curry contributed to this report.

Friday, July 8, 2022 at 6:00AM by Kendall Ross, ABC News Permalink