Community reacts, accuser, who lives in Raleigh, silent as DOJ closes Emmett Till investigation

Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Community reacts as DOJ closes Emmett Till investigation
After 66 years, the Department of Justice investigation into the cold case murder of Emmett Till is officially closed.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- After 66 years, the Department of Justice investigation into the cold case murder of Emmett Till is officially closed.

Carolyn Bryant Donham, Till's accuser will not be charged.

Some are unhappy about that.

"I was very disappointed. What I am hoping and what others are hoping is that she can be held accountable and another investigation can be reopened. At least for a kidnapping charge," said Kevin Wilson Jr., the filmmaker and Durham Hillside High School graduate who in 2017 produced the Oscar-nominated short "My Nephew Emmett."

The Black 14-year-old's murder by a White mob became the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1955, while Till was visiting family in Mississippi, Bryant Donham accused the boy of whistling and making sexual advances.

The woman's husband, Roy Bryant, and John William Milam were acquitted by an all-White jury. Protected by double Jeopardy they later confessed to the killing.

In 2018, an investigation into the killing was reopened after the release of Dr. Tim Tyson's book, "The Blood of Emmett Till."

Tyson, a senior research scholar at Duke University claimed during interviews that Bryant Donham recanted her story and lied about her interactions with Till.

She denied those claims to the DOJ and it determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute the case.

Tyson stands by his book and released this statement in part:

I commend the Department of Justice and the FBI for their notable work on this case. It is my fervent hope that Emmett's surviving family and friends find peace and continued purpose in their work for justice. We must all follow their example and work to break the hold of white supremacy on this nation.

ABC11 stopped by Bryant Donham's home on Tuesday. An unidentified woman opened the door.

When told ABC11 wanted Bryant Donham's response to the FBI ending its investigation, the woman said "no comment."

"She must have a hard time living with that terrible legacy over her head. And it is telling that she does not want to see justice done even today," said Dr. Blair LM Kelley, an NC State professor, historian and race and culture writer. "Mamie Till would remind us that the fight is bigger than one case. Because she did so when she was alive. it's important for all of us to seek justice now to fight for what is right now and speak up from where you can."

ABC11 welcomes the relatives of Carolyn Bryant Donham to speak about this painful legacy attached to their family, and our history.