Nearly 70 years after Emmett Till was brutally murdered, one of Till’s relatives filed a lawsuit to force the arrest of the woman who instigated his kidnapping and death.
The suit, filed in federal court by Till’s cousin, Patricia Sterling, is the most recent effort by Till’s relatives and community to hold someone accountable for the brazen murder. So far, no one involved has ever been punished despite admitting their roles in killing Till.
In 1955, 14-year-old Till, a Chicago resident, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, in a store. Donham, then known as Carolyn Bryant, allegedly informed her husband, Roy Bryant, that Till had assaulted her. Roy Bryant and his brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Till and brutally tortured and murdered him. The two men were acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury but later confessed in a magazine interview; both killers, now deceased, were never punished for the murder.
As Blavity previously reported, it was recently uncovered that an arrest warrant had been issued for Donham, who instigated the attack and was allegedly an accomplice to the kidnapping. However, local authorities never executed the warrant. An attempt to force police to arrest Dunham, still alive at 89 years old, ended last year when a Mississippi grand jury failed to indict her.
With Mississippi authorities yet again failing to hold one of the participants in Till’s lynching accountable, his family has now turned to the federal government. Sterling’s lawsuit filed on Feb. 7 states the authorities have engaged in racial bias and “systematically avoided law enforcement in cases when the victim is Black, and the perpetrator is white,” thus making their inaction a violation of federal law. Mississippi has a long and often violent history of racism, from its time as the state with the most lynchings in the United States to recent efforts to continue commemorating the Confederacy’s history that sought to maintain slavery in the South.
The suit aims to have the federal government step in and implement the arrest warrant against Dunham, which could finally lead to Dunham being brought to trial for her role in Till’s murder.
“We, to our knowledge, knew that Carolyn Bryant Donham was the last living known accomplice” in the killing, Deborah Watts, another of Till’s cousins, told MSNBC. Watts helped discover the old arrest warrant through her leadership of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. Sterling echoed these sentiments, stating, “we shall not rest until Carolyn Bryant is brought to complete justice in Mississippi,” according to Law & Crime. Till’s family is also reported to be contacting Congress for help in bringing Dunham to justice.
Till’s killing and the images of his brutalized body, circulated at the insistence of his grieving mother, helped spark the civil rights movement, inspiring everyone from Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and other participants of the Montgomery bus boycott to various student activists and protesters; modern movements like Black Lives Matter also pay homage to his legacy. Should the latest lawsuit succeed, Till’s family may finally see his legacy honored and some semblance of justice brought to the last of those responsible for his horrible death.