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Patricia Sterling, cousin of Emmett Till, has filed a lawsuit seeking the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White woman whose allegations directly led to the grotesque torture and murder of the 14-year-old Black boy nearly 70 years ago.
Sterling filed a federal lawsuit against Ricky Banks, the sheriff in Leflore County, Mississippi, seeking to compel the elected official to serve a 1955 arrest warrant against Donham, who was then identified as “Mrs Roy Bryant” on the document.
A team searching for evidence surrounding Till’s lynching discovered the arrest warrant last year in a Mississippi courthouse basement. The team included members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation as well as a few relatives of the group’s namesake.
“It was Carolyn Bryant’s lie that sent Roy Bryant and JW Milam into a rage, which resulted in the mutilation of Emmett Till’s body into [an] unrecognizable condition,” it added.
In August 1955, Till, a Chi-town native, was visiting family in Mississippi when he was accused by Donham – then 21 – of making lewd comments and grabbing her in a family grocery store in Money, Mississippi.
According to The Guardian, evidence indicates a woman, possibly Donham, identified Till to the men who went on to abduct him and brutally murder the child.
In a decision that would garner global outcry, empathy, and rage, Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, decided to leave her son’s casket open during his funeral in Chicago.
AP says cops gave Donham a pass because she was a mother of two
Shortly after, Donham, along with her then-husband Roy Bryant and her brother-in-law JW Milam, were charged with Till’s abduction, according to the 1955 arrest warrant.
The warrant against Donham was released publicly at the time. However, the Leflore County sheriff at the time told reporters he did not want to “bother” Donham since she had two young children to care for, according to the Associated Press.
Bryant and Milam, who were tried for murder and then acquitted by an all-white jury, later confessed to Till’s killing in a magazine interview months later. They have both since died.
The 1955 arrest warrant would go unserved and Donham would evade all inquiries.
With the US justice department announcing in December 2021 that it was closing its investigation into Till’s lynching, his family has yet to receive justice for their pain and suffering.
Horrific story of Emmett Till unexpectedly brings people together
While the sadistic reality of what happened to Emmett Till is haunting, recent efforts have been made to add dignity and historical context to his young and impactful life.
Mississippi state Sen. David Jordan once mentioned, “When I met Rosa Parks in 1961, she said she didn’t get out of that seat for Emmett Till.”
The Mississippi community of Greenwood erected a towering statue in October 2022 in honor of Emmett Till.
“I feel that when young people ask me what the memory of Emmett Till is, we have this statue as a memory,” said Sen. Jordan. “He liberated all Black people for all that he sacrificed.”
“This is a great day as we take another leap forward in recognizing the life and legacy of Emmett Till,” the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s only remaining family member who saw his cousin the night he was kidnapped, told ABC News.
Though the 2022 film, “Till” received no Oscar nominations, it hasn’t stopped his family from advocating for Emmett’s name and legacy.
Cousin and cofounder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, Deborah Watts, told TMZ, “the family is extremely disappointed the movie “Till” and its lead actress Danielle Deadwyler — who plays Emmett’s mom — received zero nominations.”
Deborah says Danielle “embodied and delivered the true essence of our cousin, a loving and courageous mother, Mamie Till Mobley. She reached deeply and poured her heart and soul in this role as she embraced us intimately like no other, while transforming into Mamie and bringing her true essence and story to life.”
Donham has not publicly commented on the calls for her arrest
She claimed that she had tried to deny his identity when Till was brought to her by the two men but that Till allegedly went on to identify himself.
Less than a year later and after the discovery of the unserved arrest warrant, a grand jury in Mississippi refused to indict Donham, citing an apparent lack of evidence.
Donham, now 89, has lived in Kentucky and North Carolina in recent years.