Emmett Till's Family Seeks Arrest After Finding 1955 Warrant

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Emmett Till's Family Seeks Arrest After Finding 1955 Warrant
The unserved warrant was for Carolyn Bryant on a charge of kidnapping in the Till murder.

The Tallahatchie River is where historians say Emmett Till's body was recovered. A new piece of history recovered this week: A circuit clerk says he found a warrant that was supposed to be issued to the White woman in this case who accused the Black teen of whistling at her in 1955, which was a violation of an unwritten code in Jim Crow South.

Down a dark hallway in a basement beneath the Leflore County Courthouse in Mississippi, County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill says he, a filmmaker and members of the Till family discovered a piece of forgotten history.  

"They were going through the boxes here in these old county criminal cases," Stockstill said. "They found them in one of the red files, similar to this, one of the red files here. And when you open the file, you see the documents that was in that particular file. I've actually taken that file away from this area and put it in a secure location."

What they discovered was an unserved warrant in the 1955 death of Till.

"I was totally surprised because — I use the example of looking for a needle in a haystack," Stockstill said. "Right here shows that, 'Mrs. Roy Bryant not found in my county,' and then signed — I'm assuming that's George Smith. I see 'G-E-O Smith. So basically, what they were saying is, they were able to serve these two individuals but were not able to serve Mrs. Roy Bryant at that particular time."

The unserved warrant was for Carolyn Bryant on a charge of kidnapping in the Till murder. At the time, the sheriff told reporters he didn't serve it because he didn't want to bother the mother of two young children. 

Chicago-born Till came to visit family members in Mississippi in August 1955.

He encountered a White woman, Bryant, at Bryant's Grocery. She later told her husband that Till whistled at her.  

Today, that store is a living history lesson for people like the Watkins family from Florida. Shawanna Watkins says her kids are brushing up on the past.  

"I really wanted them to see for themselves what they've been reading and learning about in school," she said.

"Just by walking to the store, and somebody having more rights than you, it can really turn your whole life upside down having a false accusation against you," Tyliqca Shaw said.

J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were arrested on kidnapping charges in connection with Till's disappearance.  

On Aug. 31, Till's decomposed body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. The two men later beat the court case, but then admitted during a magazine interview that they killed Till.  

Now the big question: Is a new warrant, a new case possible after all this time?

Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey says, unfortunately, no.  

"There is a lack of evidence that can be presented in court," he said. "You can't present hearsay, we can't present testimony that can't be cross examined, and so on. And the statute of limitations, now, for kidnapping doesn't exist. That wasn't true back in 1955."

Carolyn Bryant Donham is now in her 80s and believed to be living in North Carolina. 

Emmett Till has been memorialized all over Mississippi. In Glendora, they erected a sign in his honor. But the sign is now bulletproof. That's because it's been stolen, thrown in the river, replaced shot, removed, replaced and shot again. But as long as people like the Watkins family continue to visit sites like these, Emmett Till's memory will live on.