According to her own story, Mississippi officials offered preferential treatment rather than prosecution after Carolyn Bryant Donham’s encounter with Emmett Till in the summer of 1955 led to the lynching of a black teenager. .
Instead of arresting Donham on a warrant accusing her of kidnapping her days after Till’s kidnapping, police officers said relatives had removed her and her two young sons from the house amid growing anger over the incident. Having passed on word that he would be taken away, Donham said in his 2008 memoir, published last month. Sheriffs later claimed they were unable to arrest Donham, who was 21 at the time.
After her husband and his half-brother were imprisoned on murder charges in Till’s death, she wrote in an unpublished manuscript that two men from the sheriff’s office had pulled her and her sister-in-law out of the cell. said to have been confined for a relaxing visit in I took the women home. Then, before the murder trial, the men were somehow allowed to attend family dinners without security guards, she said.
“I was shocked! How the hell did they get released from prison and come to have dinner with us? Who dropped them off and picked them up and put them back in prison?” We had a great night together,” Donham recalled in a memoir written by his daughter-in-law based on the words of an older woman.
Nearly 70 years later, Donham’s recounting of the days surrounding Till’s abduction and lynching sparked renewed frustration among Till’s relatives and activists calling for Donham’s prosecution. Especially now that a grand jury in Mississippi has decided not to indict Till for kidnapping or manslaughter. death.
For them, the revelation also raises questions about whether Donham, now 88, is still being protected despite being seen as new evidence against her.
Carolyn Donham has rarely commented publicly on Till’s case, nor has she spoken publicly about her recent decision to pursue new charges. That is why her memoir, published by historians that it was obtained in an interview several years ago, caused such an uproar when it was published a few weeks ago. followed media reports containing details of the documents, but it is unclear whether the grand jury considered the content of the autobiography.
In his 99-page memoir, Donham describes how on August 24, 1955, Till, a 14-year-old living in Mississippi from Chicago, walked into a family-run store while visiting relatives. There was – it was just her and Till, who also went by the family nickname of ‘Bobo’.
In the account, Donham repeats her testimony from the murder trial that Till grabbed her and made lewd comments. He also whistled during the only part of her story that he did.
Evidence suggests that Till was kidnapped at gunpoint by two armed white men a few days later, and that the woman may have identified the youngsters for them. Donham denies identifying Till in the memoir and says she tried to help him instead, but she was named on a kidnapping warrant along with Bryant and Milam. Despite knowing, Donham was never arrested.
For a time, according to Ms. Donham, she was spirited away with the knowledge of police officers and “shuffled” between houses by the Bryant family. Later, with Donham in court, the two men were tried and acquitted of Till’s murder. The kidnapping charges were later dropped and no one has been charged or tried since.
Upon acquittal, Bryant and Milam admitted to the kidnapping and killing in an interview with Look magazine.
In her memoir, Donham said she didn’t even know there was a warrant for her arrest until an FBI agent told her during a review decades later.
The warrant was kept in obscure and unseen conditions in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse until the Till family and other members found it during a search. At the time of the killing, Donham wrote, “They didn’t even tell me there was a warrant.”
“I was never arrested or charged,” she said.
A nagging question for some is why?
Keith Beeshamp, the filmmaker and activist who helped find the warrant, said the decision against Donham’s indictment was not in the grand jury that voted against the new indictment, but in a system that has spanned generations. I think it’s in
Law enforcement in Mississippi, which was all white at the time of the murder, allowed Donham to evade justice in his misguided quest to defend “white femininity,” he said, and that same veil now stands. covering her
Beauchamp, who released the documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Lewis Till in 2005 and helped write and produce his next film, Till, said, “A chivalrous impulse has made this woman live for 67 years. It remained untouched,” he said. October.
But in announcing the Lefleur County grand jury’s decision not to indict Donham, District Attorney Dwayne Richardson on Tuesday cited nothing more than evidence of race or gender.Members of the panel was presented with testimony from eyewitnesses who spoke of the investigation into Till’s murder from 2004 to the present, he said in a statement.
“After hearing more than seven hours of testimony from eyewitnesses with first-hand knowledge of the case and investigators who investigated the case, the grand jury determined that there was not enough evidence to indict Donham,” the black man said. Richardson said.
Members of the Till family were not happy with this decision. But Till’s cousin, Reverend Wheeler Parker of Chicago, who was with the young man the night he was abducted from his family’s home, took a conciliatory tone about failing to obtain an indictment, saying he was “unhappy”. is predictable.”
“The State of Mississippi has promised me and my family to fight for justice for my cousin Emmett. By presenting this latest piece of evidence to a grand jury, they have kept their promise.” said.
Appreciating the efforts of prosecutors, Parker said, “We cannot undo the centuries-old anti-black system that ensures that those who killed Emmett Till go unpunished to this day.” Stated.
It’s unclear if a grand jury will once again decide Carolyn Donham’s fate.
At least three investigations have ended without charges in the last 20 years, including a Justice Department investigation that ended without charges in December. Other officials, some believe, have also died. Donham is the only person known to face arrest risk.
The Till family and others have pledged to keep seeking someone to prosecute Donham, and additional witnesses may still be alive, according to the retired FBI investigator who investigated Till’s case. Officer Dale Killinger said. 2007.
“It’s still possible there’s other evidence,” Killinger said in an interview.
It’s unclear if anyone with the badge is likely looking for it. It cited a Justice Department decision that said no prosecution was planned even before the company announced it had decided not to indict.
In her memoir, Donham denied having done anything to kill Till and expressed grief over his family’s pain. portrayed himself as another victim of a horrific crime that has been pursued by
For some people, it’s enough.
“Donham may not have paid the price some wanted him to pay, but he is suffering from what happened to Till. No. After the grand jury’s decision was announced, it was time to leave her alone, Lefrole County’s Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper said in an editorial.
For Ollie Gordon, another cousin of Till, some justice may have been served even though no one was convicted of the murder.
“MS. Donham hasn’t been to prison. But in many ways, I don’t think her life has been fun. She wakes up every morning to face the atrocities that have happened because of her actions.” I think we have to,” Gordon said.