WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2022
She's 88 years old: We've just returned from several hours off campus. We find that we've been thinking about a conversation we saw on CNN last night
Laura Coates and Areva Martin conducted the conversation. They want Carolyn Bryant Donham sent to prison, right now.
We aren't saying they're right or their wrong in their assessment. We will say that we think their conversation was extremely instructive.
Unpacking the facts a little bit more, Coates and Martin want Donham sent to prison for her role, real or imagined, in a vicious murder she rather plainly didn't commit.
The unmistakably vicious killing occurred in 1955. For the record, Carolyn Bryant Donham is 88 years old.
The brutal murder was conducted by Donham's husband and brother in-law. It was one of Mississippi most famous, most vicious racial murders.
The innocent victim was Emmett Till, who was just 14 years old.
Why were Coates and Martin discussing this well-known case? Below, you see the start of their conversation, and you can see the general outlines of their view of the case:
COATES (8/9/22): A grand jury in Mississippi declining to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham. If that name sounds familiar, she is the white woman who accused a 14-year-old Black teenager, Emmett Till, of making advances towards her nearly 70 years ago.
Now, those accusations led to Till's brutal death, a murder that shook America to its core and frankly does to this very day.
And only after Emmett Till's mother decided to have an open casket funeral—and a warning that this image is disturbing—for the world to see what they did to her boy, the horrors done to her son. Do you realize that Emmett Till would've turned 81 years old two weeks ago?
CNN legal analyst Areva Martin, she joins me now.
Areva, nothing at all lessens the shock and the pain of seeing that image or thinking about this happening seven decades ago. And yet, after seven hours of testimony, the grand jury decided there wasn't enough evidence to indict her on kidnapping or manslaughter charges.
Now, there is a difference between how people think about moral culpability, legal culpability, and what a grand jury would be deciding, right?
MARTIN: Well, absolutely, Laura. It is shocking as the story is and the horrors of it. As you said, even 70 years later, it is still as painful to think about what happened to Emmett Till.
I am not surprised that the grand jury did not come back with an indictment for Carolyn Bryant. We know that there have been efforts over the last 10 to 15 years to have the case, you know, reopened, to have it re-investigated, to have charges brought against Carolyn Bryant. But every time that there has been a re-investigation of the facts of this case, the outcome has been the same.
There's been a determination that there is just not enough evidence to charge her, even though we know that there is this alleged memoir where Carolyn Bryant apparently recanted her statement about what Emmett Till did.
But even with that memoir being out in the public sphere, no district attorney has been willing to move forward with charges against her.
COATES: We also learned that back in June, there was an unserved warrant for her arrest that was found charging her and her then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law J.W. Milam in Emmett Till's abduction.
I have to tell you, just saying their names just sickens me to think about what they did, what the two men, what they did to Emmett Till. It really—it causes me a great deal of pain to even articulate that. They were arrested and they were acquitted on murder charges, only to then confess later.
But Donham, she was never taken into custody. So, this wasn't followed up on? I mean, no arrest warrant until now? That's stunning to people.
MARTIN: It absolutely is stunning. And you talk about the system failing this family. That's exactly what happened, Laura. The system failed the Till family.
The conversation continues from there.
Donham's role in the Emmett Till murder has been re-investigated several times in the past seventeen years. Coates thinks it's stunning that grand juries have refused to charge Donham, though she never quite answers this obvious question:
What should those grand juries have charged Donham with? What should Donham, age 88, be frog-marched to prison for?
Should she be charged with kidnapping or manslaughter? Coates is happy to float the idea, but she doesn't bother attempting to explain the logic of her suggestion, or the state of the evidence, to the extent that any exists.
Two grand juries have now found insufficient evidence to charge Donham with anything. If memory serves, the grand jury back in 2005 or 2007 was predominantly black.
Still, the journalists want to see her shipped off. For their full conversation, click here.
We've been watching American journalists on a daily basis for the past twenty-four years. This conversation seemed familiar in certain unflattering ways.
We saw no particular sign that Coates and Martin could have reported the remarkably complicated facts of this very old, horrid case. That said, they made it clear where they stood:
They want to see Donham sent to prison, though it wasn't entirely clear what she should be sent there for.
Donham is 88 years old. It isn't clear that she played a direct role, of any kind, in this vicious killing.
That said, the journalists want to see her locked up. In several ways, this conversation shows us the complex face of our flailing nation as it slides down toward the sea.
The past isn't even past. We believe Abraham Lincoln said that!
Further disclosure: Your lizard brain will urge you to say that the journalists are right. That said, you and your sacred lizard brain don't have the slightest idea what the facts are either.