Chicago Civil Rights Leaders Express Anger at Decision Not to Indict Emmett Till Accuser

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After a grand jury decided not to indict the woman whose allegations sparked Emmett Till’s lynching, Chicago-area civil rights leaders are expressing their outrage and disappointment in the decision.

The grand jury met in Mississippi for more than seven hours this week to consider whether to bring charges of kidnapping and manslaughter against Carolyn Bryant-Donham for her role in the brutal murder of Till in 1955, which was a key turning point in the burgeoning civil rights movement.

Dr. Michael Nabors, who is head of the NAACP’s Evanston chapter, says that he is disgusted by the decision not to indict Donham.

“There is nothing more egregious on American soil than lynching of a human because of the color of their skin,” he said.

The grand jury heard more than seven hours of testimony from investigators and witnesses, including reading an unserved arrest warrant that had been discovered in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse. The jury opted not to indict her due to what they said was a lack of sufficient evidence to bring the charges, according to a statement.

Donham accused 14-year-old Till of making advances towards her, testifying in court that he had whistled at her and grabbed her wrist.  

Her husband Roy Bryant and his cousin J.W. Milam were accused of later taking Till from his bed, ordering him into the back of a pickup, and then beating him before shooting him and tossing his body into a river.

The two men were acquitted in court, but Roy Bryant later admitted to the killing in a magazine interview.

“I think there’s a grave injustice, no matter how old she is now, she was culpable, and was the primary catalyst, creating and concocting an egregious lie,” Nabors said.

“She should’ve been indicted 56 years ago. She was the main force,” Rev. Jesse Jackson added.

In recent weeks, portions of a memoir purportedly dictated by Donham, in which she said she was unaware of what would happen to Till after she levied her accusations against him.  

“She was expected to die before the story got out. The story’s out,” Jackson said.

Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s cousin and the last living witness to his abduction, blasted the grand jury’s decision in a statement.

“This outcome is unfortunate, but predictable, news,” he said. ““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.”

The Department of Justice’s lengthy investigation into the killing ended last year, with investigators saying that the statute of limitations had run out for any potential federal charges against Donham.

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