A grand jury in Mississippi has opted not to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White woman Emmett Till was accused of flirting with before the Black teen was kidnapped and brutally killed in August 1955.
According to The Associated Press, the decision by the grand jury has possibly closed the curtains to an infamous case that set the growing Civil Rights Movement into motion and caused a rallying cry nationwide.
In a news release on Tuesday, Leflore County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said a Leflore County grand jury arrived at the decision after listening to testimonies from investigators as well as witnesses. The hearing, which took place last week, lasted over seven hours.
Richardson said the jury concluded the evidence that was presented to possibly indict Donham on kidnapping and manslaughter charges in Till’s death was insufficient. The jury’s decision also comes after an unserved 1955 charge warrant for Donham was recently found in the basement of a Mississippi court.
Responding to the decision by the grand jury, Till’s cousin The Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. said the determination was “unfortunate, but predictable.” Parker is the only surviving witness to his cousin’s kidnapping and lynching.
“The prosecutor tried his best, and we appreciate his efforts, but he alone cannot undo hundreds of years of anti-Black systems that guaranteed those who killed Emmett Till would go unpunished, to this day,” Parker said in a statement.
“The fact remains that the people who abducted, tortured, and murdered Emmett did so in plain sight, and our American justice system was and continues to be set up in such a way that they could not be brought to justice for their heinous crimes.”
Ollie Gordon, who is also one of Till’s cousins, also said a sort of justice had been delivered in his cousin’s death even though the grand jury declined to indict Donham.
“Justice is not always locking somebody up and throwing the keys away,” said Gordon. “Ms. Donham has not gone to jail. But in many ways, I don’t think she’s had a pleasant life. I think each day she wakes up, she has to face the atrocities that have come because of her actions.”
But another cousin, Deborah Watts, told The Associated Press that Till’s case is a manifestation of how White women can walk away without being held accountable for falsely accusing Black men.
“She has still escaped any accountability in this case,” Watts, who is the head of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said. “So the grand jury’s decision is disappointing, but we’re still going to be calling for justice for Emmett Till. It’s not over.”
Till was lynched after Donham accused the Black teen of flirting with her at a family store in Money, Mississippi. Four days before his killing, it was rumored that he had flirted with Bryant. This speculation led to two White men kidnapping Till, later beating him, and shooting him dead.
Bryant’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged with Till’s murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men, who have since died, confessed to the killing in a paid magazine interview months later.
The unserved warrant for Donham was discovered in June. And though the warrant for Donham’s arrest was circulated in the wake of Till’s death, the Leflore County sheriff at the time informed reporters that he did not want to “bother” Donham because she had to fend for her two young children, The Associated Press reported.
In December, the Justice Department announced it was closing its re-investigation of the 14-year-old’s lynching. That investigation came after a book that was published in 2017 alleged Donham admitted she lied about Till flirting with her. But during the investigation, Bryant denied that she recanted her testimony in an interview with the FBI. The FBI concluded that “there was insufficient evidence to prove that she lied to the FBI by denying that she recanted her testimony,” ABC News reported.