Family members of Emmitt Till, the14-year-old Black boy whose kidnapping and lynching in 1955 helped ignite the American civil rights movement, say they have found an unserved arrest warrant for the white woman who set the stage for Till’s brutal torture and murder when she accused him of whistling at her at her family’s store, the New York Amsterdam News reports.
“I cried. We cried. We hugged,” Deborah Watts, Till’s cousin, told CNN. “Unbelievable. We held each other. Justice has to be served.”
The warrant was uncovered last week in a dusty old box in a county courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi by members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. Five members led the search, including Till’s family members, Watts and her daughter, Terri. The foundation shared an image of the warrant with CNN, which charged J.W. Milam, Roy Bryant, and Bryant’s then-wife—listed as “Mrs. Roy Bryant”—with the abduction of Till and ordered their arrests.
The warrant is dated August 29, 1955—the day after Emmett Till’s murder—and signed by the Leflore County Clerk.
The two men charged with Till’s murder were acquitted by an all-white jury within a month of the crime. Both men later admitted to the killing in an interview with Look magazine.
“N —–s are gonna stay in their place. N —–s ain’t gonna vote where I live…They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids,” Milam told the publication. “And when a n —– gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired of living. I’m likely to kill him.”
A year later, he bragged to Look that he had received “letters from all over the country congratulating me on my ‘fine Americanism.’”
Milam died in 1980 and Bryant died in 1994, but his widow—now Carolyn Bryant Donham—is still alive. Emmett Till’s family is seeking justice against Donham and hopes the warrant will lead to her arrest.
“Justice has to be served,” Watts said. “Emmett led us to it. I know that in my heart.”
According to The New York Times, an affidavit attached to the warrant said that the three “did willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and without lawful authority, forcibly seize and confine and kidnap” Emmett Till. A note left on the back of the warrant states that Donham was not arrested as she could not be found at the time, the Times reported.
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