Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman whose accusation led to the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, has died at 88.
According to CNN, Donham passed away in Westlake, Louisiana, on Tuesday (April 25). The 88-year-old was reportedly suffering from cancer and was receiving end-of-life hospice care.
In 1955, then-21-year-old Donham accused Till of grabbing her at a Mississippi store. Till’s relative witnessed their interaction and said the 14-year-old only whistled at her. Two days later, Donham’s husband Roy Bryant and half-brother J.W. Milam showed up at Till’s great uncle’s house loaded with firearms and abducted the teen. Till’s body was later after found mangled in a river.
The two men set off by Donham were acquitted of murder and never indicted on kidnapping charges. Donham was never taken into custody, but a group searching the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse in June discovered the unserved arrest warrant charging Donham in Till’s 1955 abduction.
Last August, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Donham for her involvement in the kidnapping and death of Till despite revelations about the unserved arrest warrant in her name. Kidnapping and manslaughter were considered. However, after the grand jury listened to over seven hours of testimony from witnesses and investigators but determined there wasn’t sufficient evidence to indict Donham.
Till’s cousin, Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., called the grand jury’s decision not to indict Donham “unfortunate but predictable.”
“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 the statement at the time. “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.”
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