CHICAGO — Emmett Till’s relative is suing to try getting justice for the Mississippi sheriff to execute a 1955 warrant for a white woman involved in the kidnapping that led to the brutal lynching of a black teenager.
Thiel’s torture and killing in the Mississippi Delta that summer catalyzed the civil rights movement. His mother insisted on an open burial in Chicago, and Jet magazine published photographs of his mutilated corpse. A research team at the LeFlore County, last June Courthouse in Mississippi discovered an outstanding 1955 warrant for Carolyn Bryant, identified in the document as “Roy Bryant Mrs. Te.”
Patricia Sterling, Till’s cousin in Jackson, Mississippi, sued Lefleur County Sheriff Ricky Banks in federal court on Tuesday. The lawsuit wants to force Banks to carry out an arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant, whose name has changed to Carolyn Bryant Donham since she got married again.
The lawyer for Sterling, Trent Walker, told The Associated Press on Friday, “We are trying to get justice for the Till family in any way we can.” The Associated Press reached out to Banks for comment on Friday. The sheriff did not immediately respond. As of Friday, court records show that the case had yet to be served on him.
In August 1955, 14-year-old Thiel traveled south from Chicago to Mississippi to visit family. Donham said that she had flirted with him inappropriately at a grocery store in the small town of Mooney. A cousin of Thiel’s who is there said that Thiel whistled at the woman, which was against the norms of the racist Mississippi community at the time. There is evidence that a woman, possibly Donham, recognized Thiel as the man who would later kill her.
In 1955, a warrant was issued for Donham’s arrest. The Sheriff of LeFlore County informed reporters that he did not want to “bother” the mother because she cared for two young children. Till’s body was found in the river a few weeks after her death. Her husband, Roy Bryant, and half-brother J. Milam were tried for murder, but an all-white jury found them not guilty. Months later, the men admitted as much in paid interviews with Look magazine.
Donham, now 80, has lived in North Carolina in recent years. She has not commented publicly on the call for prosecution. The United States Department of Justice announced in December 2021 that it had concluded its final investigation into the Thiel lynching without charging anyone.
There was no new evidence to charge Donham after investigators got an arrest warrant last June. Says Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in July. In August, the district attorney said that a grand jury in LeFlore County decided not to bring charges against Donham.
Walker, the attorney for Thiel’s cousin, said Friday that there had been violent cases in the South that were not brought to justice decades later, including the 1963 murder of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, the slayings of white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith—convicted of murder in 1994.
“Emmett Till would not have been murdered if Caroline Bryant had not lied to her husband about Emmett Till assaulting her,” Sterling’s lawsuit states. “It was Caroline Bryant’s lies that drove Roy Bryant and JW Milam into a rage that resulted in Emmett Till’s body being mutilated beyond recognition.”