Emmett Till
Emmett Till

The white woman who fabricated accusations of sexual advances that resulted in the gruesome death of black teen Emmett Till in 1955 will likely avoid prison.

A 2007 confession to author Timothy Tyson made public last month in a Vanity Fair article revealed that now-82-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham lied about the allegations that likely prompted Till’s death.

The recent revelation of Donham’s false allegations caused outrage and a petition on change.org has been directed to the NAACP to bring charges against Donham.

Carolyn Bryant (Chicago Defender via PBS)

“I am disgusted with her role in accusing Emmett Till for something that resulted in his brutal murder,” said Duane Dickey, who signed the petition. “She should be accountable for her actions which resulted in the gruesome murder of a young man.”

Though the petition has gained nearly 30,000 signatures, the NAACP cannot file charges against Donham. Only a prosecutor can determine whether she broke the law.

“When we became aware of [Donham’s] involvement, we submitted that information to the Justice Department,” said Hilary Shelton, NAACP’s Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “We were not the first to make sure they were aware.”

In 2007, a grand jury decided not indict her after the Justice Department investigated the murder in 2004.

Till was just 14 years old when he was dragged out of his bed by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, two white men. The teen was brutally beaten, shot and thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, put his mutilated and unrecognizable body on display in a public, open-casket funeral to expose the brutality of lynchings and the vulnerabilities of American democracy. The image of his bloated body reached thousands through black publications and helped ignite the civil rights movement.

Months later, the two men were acquitted, then later admitted guilt in a magazine interview.

“There are many legitimate cases that have not been solved, and many people who have not been brought to justice,” Shelton said.

Racially motivated homicides in the civil rights era were frequent but rarely prosecuted until the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Still, most of the cases have gone unresolved.

The Civil Rights Cold Case Project uses various media platforms to investigate and present unsolved civil rights murder cases.

“Many histories have been written about the struggle for civil rights; many documentaries have been made about the movement and the resistance that rose up against it,” said a statement on the organization’s website. “But the history of the South and of the United States still has huge, important, undocumented holes where myths and mysteries reside, threatening to undermine the nation’s goal of putting racial conflict behind.”

From 1877 to 1950, the Tuskegee Institute kept a verified record of lynchings in the country. They documented nearly 4,000 lynchings, most which have gone without any prosecutions.

As of 2015, the U.S. Justice Department has closed 105 of 113 open civil rights-era cold cases through the Cold Case Initiative, which was established in 2006 to identify and investigate murders committed during that period.

Only three cases were successfully prosecuted. Most of the cases closed without prosecution as they identified deceased subjects.

“Though very few prosecutions have resulted from these exhaustive efforts, the Department’s efforts to review these matters have helped bring closure to many family members of the victims,” stated a report to Congress from the U.S. Attorney General’s office.

Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

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