By Kayode Crown, September 9, 2022, Mississippi Free Press
The search for new evidence to bring legal accountability for those involved in the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era continues, filmmaker Keith Beauchamp says. He and other advocates for the prosecution of Carolyn Bryant Donham for her role in the Black boy’s death are frustrated that a Leflore County grand jury again declined to indict her, even after Beauchamp and Till family members found her unserved 1955 arrest warrant in June 2022 in the courthouse there.
But Beauchamp, the family and their supporters are still hopeful. Beauchamp, who is on the advisory board of the Mississippi Free Press, believes a large-budget film he co-produced and co-wrote will create the necessary buzz to generate more evidence.
“Till” comes out in theaters worldwide in October 2022 just weeks after the Mississippi grand jury again rejected efforts to finally prosecute the wife of one of Emmett Till’s murderers. It focuses heavily on Mamie Till Mobley’s activism to bring her son’s killers to justice. Beauchamp, who is from Louisiana, worked directly with her on the case before her 2003 death.
“The whole purpose of producing a Till movie is—of course—to bring awareness to the greatness of mother Mobley and her courageous decisions to make sure that justice prevails not only in a son’s case, but justice prevails for anyone who’s been failed by white supremacy,” Beauchamp told the Mississippi Free Press this week.
“The most important thing about producing a Till movie like this is to hope that it will shake the trees so that a justice-seeking atmosphere could be formed that will allow people to feel comfortable coming forward with new evidence on the case.”
‘Set In Front of A Jury’
Two white supremacists later admitting lynched Emmett Till on Aug. 28, 1955, after Carolyn Bryant, a white woman and the wife of murderer Roy Bryant, accused the boy of flirting with her. Till’s mother later held an open-casket funeral ceremony for her son in Chicago to show the world his unrecognizable face. After an all-white jury found the men who lynched him (including Roy Bryant) not guilty, the two men confessed to the crime to Look magazine, which paid $4,000 for the interview. Roy Bryant and accomplice J.W. Milam died without seeing justice for their crimes.
While searching the basement of the Leflore County Courthouse, in June 2022, family members with the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, in collaboration with Beauchamp, discovered the 1955 warrant for Carolyn Bryant’s arrest over her alleged involvement with Till’s kidnapping. A Leflore County grand jury, however, declined to indict the 88-year-old, whose name is now Carolyn Bryant Donham, last month.
“(Donham) should be brought to the court of law and set in front of a jury to answer to what transpired in 1955,” Beauchamp said this week.
The Mississippi Free Press reached out by email and phone call to the office of the Leflore County District Attorney W. DeWayne Richardson, who is Black, for comments on Aug. 30, 2022. He did return calls as of press time.
‘Feeling of Deja Vu’
Keith Beauchamp released a documentary in 2005 on Till’s lynching called “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.” In 2006, the FBI published a 291-page document of redacted findings in the case, but in 2007, a Leflore County grand jury declined to issue an indictment in the case.
In Baton Rouge, La., just days before the group found the arrest warrant in the Mississippi Delta, Beauchamp and two former FBI agents talked about the frustrations and difficulties over the decades in prosecuting the case. It was especially hard for the federal government due to legal strictures about crimes they can and cannot legally prosecute, they explained.
Former FBI agent Cynthia Deitle, who led the bureau’s Cold Case Initiative from 2008 to 2011 as chief of the civil rights unit, explained that three federal statutes could allow the FBI to prosecute cold cases. “One was kidnapping across state lines, one was murder on federal land, and one was use of an explosive device,” Deitle explained at Southern University. But Till’s murder met none of those three criteria.
That makes the need for a local prosecution of Bryant imperative, to Beauchamp’s thinking. He said the latest grand-jury decision to pass on the wife’s prosecution gave him the feeling of déjà vu.
“Although I respect the grand-jury decision, that does not mean that I necessarily have to agree with it, and I don’t agree with it,” Beauchamp said. “Am I surprised or shocked that that decision was actually made? No, I am not shocked in any way. Disappointed? Yes, but not so much shock—because it is something that I expected, being that I was part of the original investigation before, and we had the same result in 2007 when it went to a grand jury.”
“So it’s just more of frustration that I feel because of the fact that it seems to be the same system that befell Emmett Till in 1955 and allowed his murderers to go free—it is the same type of atmosphere and system that we’re dealing with,” Beauchamp added.
“And so one would hope that I would be able to say that things have changed in Mississippi, in particular, the Delta, but I can’t say that to be true because I firmly believe that same system that protected Till’s murderers in 1955 has allowed Carolyn Bryant Donham to evade justice for so long.”
Donham lives in seclusion outside Mississippi and does not do media interviews.
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