“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.
Neither Donham nor the Leflore County Clerk’s Office responded to CNN’s requests for comment.
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.
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.”
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 .
CNN’s Devon Sayers, Elizabeth Joseph and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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