Raleigh woman named in long lost arrest warrant from 1955 Emmett Till lynching

Akilah Davis Image
Thursday, June 30, 2022
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An unserved arrest warrant from 1955 names Carolyn Bryant Donham in connection to the murder of Emmett Till.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- An unserved arrest warrant from 1955 shows that a judicial official in Mississippi believed there was probable cause for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham in connection to the murder of Emmett Till.

Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, was abducted from a relative's home, killed and dumped into a river. That happened after he was accused of making sexual advances at Donham inside a store in Money, Mississippi. Witnesses later said Till simply whistled at Donham.

"Justice has been delayed for her too long and denied for this family far too long. It's now time for her to reap what she has sown," said Kerwin Pittman. "There is no statute of limitations for murder. She's still just as culpable today in her old age as the men who committed the murder of Emmett Till back then."

Donham is 87 years old, and she currently lives in Raleigh. She was married to one of the two men tried and acquitted just weeks after Till's lynching.

The Department of Justice reopened an investigation into the cold case murder of Till but closed it in December of 2021 without making any charges. Now, some legal experts believe these unserved warrants could possibly reopen the case.

"I think that is enough grounds for any judge today to use that evidence already adjudicated upon and decided upon by another judge. That should be enough to issue a new warrant and reopen the case," said Dawn Blagrove, an attorney with Emancipate NC.

Triangle author Tim Tyson published The Blood of Emmett Till in 2017 after eight years of research and writing. He interviewed Donham in Raleigh in 2008. His book sparked the DOJ investigation.

"She told me nothing that boy did could justify what happened to him. As for the things she said in court about him putting his hands on her or speaking to her in any sexual way isn't true," Tyson said. "This is one of the most important stories about race in American history and any knowledge we get about it further is good."

Emmett Till's death laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement. An all-white jury acquitted the two men charged with murdering the Black teen. Till's mother, Mamie Till's decision to hold an open-casket funeral shocked the nation and forced America to see the ugly reality of what it meant to be Black in the Jim Crow South.

Today, activists like Pittman draw parallels between law enforcement's use of deadly force, which rarely lead to a conviction, and this case.

"70 years later with this case and she still hasn't been charged. That tells us not much has changed," he said.