Emmett Till’s family seek justice after finding unissued arrest warrant in his case

“I cried. We cried. We hugged,” Deborah Watts, Emmett’s cousin, told CNN about when she said members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation found the warrant. in a dusty, damp box in a courthouse in Greenwood County, Mississippi. “Unbelievable. We held each other. Justice must be served.”

The warrant was discovered last week by a five-member search party led by members of Till’s family, including Deborah Watts and her daughter Terri. An image of the warrant, provided to CNN by the foundation, accuses JW Milam, Roy Bryant and Bryant’s then-wife – identified in the document as Mrs. Roy Bryant – with kidnapping and orders their arrest. The warrant is dated August 29, 1955 and signed by the Leflore County Clerk.

Both men were acquitted of Emmett’s murder soon after by an all-white jury, although they later admitted to the murder in an interview with Look. magazine. Milam died in 1980 and Bryant died in 1994, but his widow – now Carolyn Bryant Donham – is still alive, and Emmett’s family hopes the warrant will lead to his arrest and, ultimately, justice.

“Justice needs to be served,” Watts told CNN, adding, “Emmett got us there. I know that in my heart.”

The image of the warrant shows that the current Leflore County Clerk certified the document as authentic on June 21. With no law enforcement action in light of the discovery, the family considered taking the initiative to help bring justice to Emmett’s brutal murder.

“We thought about things like citizen’s arrest,” Watts said. “If the authorities don’t do this, what can we do? Watts told CNN.

The family believe the warrant serves as new evidence that has gone decades unsearched, Watts added, and when it was found, the family was overwhelmed with emotions.

“It was overwhelming. … We were also in shock,” Watts said.

Terri Watts echoed those sentiments: “I had to watch the warrant multiple times just to make sure it was real,” she said.

“I really want to go all the way. But it’s been a huge trauma. I still feel like the weight is on our shoulders. We’ve found new evidence, so we want justice,” said Terri Watts.

The discovery of the warrant was first reported by the New York Amsterdam News, one of the nation’s oldest African-American publications.
According to the New York Times, an affidavit attached to the warrant states that the three “deliberately, unlawfully and criminally and without lawful authority, forcibly seized, confined and kidnapped” Emmett, although he misspelled his last name. . A note on the back of the warrant says Donham was not arrested because she could not be located at the time, the Times reported, citing filmmaker Keith A. Beauchamp, who was part of the team that discovered the money order.

Neither Donham nor the Leflore County Clerk’s Office responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

Deborah Watts, a cousin of Emmett Till, speaks as she points to a painting of Till during a newsreel at the Mississippi Capitol, Friday, March 11, 2022, in Jackson.

The professor claimed Donham retracted testimony that Emmett Till grabbed her

While Emmett’s murder remains a watershed moment in America’s long fight against racial injustice and inequality, to date no one has been held criminally responsible.

The 14-year-old boy from Chicago was visiting family in Mississippi when he had his fateful encounter with then-20-year-old Carolyn Bryant. Accounts of this day differ, but witnesses claimed that Emmett whistled the woman at the market she owned with her husband in Money, Mississippi.

Roy Bryant and Milam then pulled Emmett out of bed, ordered him into the back of a van, and beat him before shooting him in the head and dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River. But they were both acquitted of the murder following a trial in which Carolyn Bryant testified that Emmett grabbed her and verbally threatened her. The jury deliberated for barely an hour.
In 2007, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Donham. And according to archived FBI documents, Milam and Roy Bryant were arrested for kidnapping in 1955, but a grand jury failed to indict them. “The original court, district attorney, and investigative records related to the 1955 investigation have apparently been lost,” the FBI said in a 2006 report.
Half-brothers Roy Bryant, left, and JW Milam, center, sit with a lawyer as they stand trial for the murder of Emmett Till.

Donham testified in 1955 that Emmett grabbed his hand, waist, and proposed to him, saying he had been with “white women” before. But years later, when Professor Timothy Tyson referred to that testimony in an interview with Donham in 2008, he claimed she told him, “That part isn’t true.”

The prospect that the woman at the center of the Emmett case has recanted her testimony – which the US Department of Justice in a memo says contradicts statements she gave at the state trial in 1955 and more later to the FBI – sparked calls for authorities to investigate. the case again.
Biden signs bill making lynching a federal hate crime into law
The DOJ, which had already reviewed and closed the case in 2007, reopened the investigation into Emmett’s murder in 2018. But the case was closed in December after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division concluded that ‘she couldn’t prove that Donham had lied. When questioned directly, Donham categorically denied to investigators that she recanted.

Emmett’s death drew attention far beyond Mississippi, after a photo of his mutilated body was published in Jet Magazine and circulated around the world. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, had demanded he hold an open funeral so the world could see her son’s wounds and the results of racial terrorism – a move that helped fuel the civil rights movement .

Emmett’s legacy, however, lives on: In March, President Joe Biden signed into law the landmark Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which made lynching a federal hate crime.

CNN’s Devon Sayers, Elizabeth Joseph and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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