Unserved Arrest Warrant for Woman, Now In Her 80s, Who Accused Emmett Till in 1955 Is Found in Court Basement

Emmett Till's relatives are calling on officials to arrest Carolyn Bryant Donham as an accessory to murder

Emmett Till, Carolyn Bryant Donham. Photo: AP; Gene Herrick/AP

The unearthing of an unserved warrant has relatives of Emmett Till calling on authorities in Mississippi to arrest the woman who falsely accused the 14-year-old Black boy of lewd conduct in 1955, leading to his abduction and lynching.

An image of the newly-discovered arrest warrant, found in the basement of the Leflore County courthouse in Greenwood, was first obtained and published by The Amsterdam News.

Court officials in Leflore County also confirmed to the Associated Press and Reuters that the decades-old document was found last week by a team from the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation — a non-profit dedicated to preserving the slain teen's legacy and fighting for justice on his behalf.

The warrant was located in a file folder that had been stuffed inside an unmarked box.

Emmett, who was from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi during the summer of 1955 when a woman — Carolyn Bryant Donham, then 21 — accused him of whistling at her and attempting to grab her hand and waist inside a store.

Days later, Emmett was kidnapped from a relative's home, beaten severely, and mutilated before being shot. Afterwards, a large metal fan was tied to his neck with barbed wire and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

Donham's husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and Bryant's half-brother, J.W. Milam, were tried for Emmett's murder, and an all-white jury acquitted them in September 1955 after an hour of deliberations.

Emmett Till
Emmett Till. Getty

In a magazine interview after the trial, both men admitted killing the boy.

Emmett's death served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

In 2007, Donham recanted part of her story, telling Timothy B. Wilson for his book The Blood of Emmett Till the teen never touched her or harassed her verbally.

In March, the Senate unanimously passed a bill named after Emmett, making lynching a federal hate crime.

According to the Associated Press, part of the team that discovered the unserved warrant included Emmett's cousin, Deborah Watts, who heads the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, and her daughter, Teri Watts.

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The warrant indicates Donham relayed the false allegations to Emmett's eventual killers, and that she was a possible accessory to Emmett's murder. Teri Watts believes the warrant amounts to new evidence.

Teri Watts told the AP she expects the newly-discovered warrant — which was publicized at the time — will be served.

"Serve it and charge her," Teri Watts said to the AP. "This is what the state of Mississippi needs to go ahead."

According to the AP, after the warrant was first filed, the sheriff in Leflore County told reporters he didn't want to "bother" Donham, noting she had two young children to care for.

Donham is now nearing 90, and the AP reports that she currently resides in North Carolina.

She has made no comment on the family's calls for justice, and PEOPLE was unable to locate her for comment on Thursday.

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