A cousin of Emmett Till is hoping her federal lawsuit will force a Mississippi sheriff to arrest the woman responsible for his kidnapping and death. News of the lawsuit comes a little over a year after the U.S. Justice Department announced the conclusion of its most recent investigation into the young man’s 1955 lynching, culminating without anyone being charged or arrested.
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, Patricia Sterling of Jackson, Mississippi, filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Ricky Banks of Leflore County. The complaint, according to The Associated Press, seeks to force Banks to serve Carolyn Bryant Donham a warrant related to Till’s disappearance and slaying.
A core element pushing Sterling’s lawsuit is the June 2022 emergence of an unserved 1955 arrest warrant for “Mrs. Roy Bryant,” Bryant Donham’s name from that time. Researchers found the warrant in a file folder in a Mississippi courthouse, according to a Leflore County Circuit Clerk named Elmus Stockstill.
In August 1955, Bryant Donham, then known as Bryant, told her husband a Black boy flirted with her while she was working as a cashier at a store in Money, Mississippi. The boy was the 14-year-old Till, who had come from Chicago for the summer to visit family in Mississippi.
Shortly after that Till was kidnapped in the middle of the night from his uncle’s home by a party that included several men and a woman who was identified as the person who pointed out Till to the men as the boy they were seeking. This woman is alleged to be Bryant Donham. Till was taken away and tortured and lynched that night.
The recently recovered arrest warrant actually was publicized in 1955. At that time, the then-Leflore County sheriff said to the press he did not want to “bother” her because she was a mother with two young children that needed to be raised.
Weeks later here was a highly publicized trial for the lynching, where Carolyn Bryant’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged with Till’s murder. The two were acquitted by an all-white jury but later confessed to killing the 14-year-old boy in an interview with Look magazine. They were compensated for their story, where they spoke about how they beat him, shot him in his head, tied him to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire, and dumped him in the Tallahatchie River.
Though the 1955 arrest warrant was valid, the office of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch opted not to pursue criminal charges against Bryant Donham, claiming there was no new evidence directly connecting her to his murder. In August 2022, the district attorney said a local grand jury declined to indict the woman — thus ending their newly evoked interest.
This was the second time a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict her on any charges. It happened in 2007 also.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Sterling’s attorney Trent Walker said, “We are using the available means at our disposal to try to achieve justice on behalf of the Till family.”
The federal lawsuit insists, “But for Carolyn Bryant falsely claiming to her husband that Emmett Till assaulted her, Emmett would not have been murdered. It was Carolyn Bryant’s lie that sent Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam into a rage, which resulted in the mutilation of Emmett Till’s body into (an) unrecognizable condition.”
Adding, “The Leflore County Sheriff is complicit in the trio’s escape from justice even though both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam admitted to the crime.”
Walker said the family is not giving up despite the obstacles placed before them. Noting that there are many cases that take decades to come to justice, in a news conference on Friday he referenced Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers’ assassination in 1963. Almost 30 years later, a white supremacist named Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of murdering Evers.
This is why Sterling has filed the complaint.
“To this day, the warrant issued for Carolyn Bryant remains unserved. Carolyn Bryant’s whereabouts are known,” her lawsuit says CNN reports. “This action is being brought in order to compel the Leflore County Sheriff to serve the warrant upon Carolyn Bryant.”