FSU professor closely following warrant discovery in Emmett Till case

Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 6:56 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - His brutal killing shocked the country and helped launch the Civil Rights movement. Now, nearly seventy years after Emmett Till was lynched in rural Mississippi, researchers struck gold.

They found an unserved arrest warrant that they hope could lead to long-lost justice.

For those who have dedicated a career to investigating the Till case, the discovery on June 21 could be a game-changer and may shine new light on an extensive Emmett Till Archive housed at Florida State University.

Till’s relatives were among those who found the document in a disorganized basement at the Leflore County Courthouse in Mississippi.

Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp was also there.

“It had to be destiny that we were able to find that documentation within an hour and a half of being in that basement,” Beauchamp told WCTV.

Davis Houck is the Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies at Florida State University. He has studied the Till case and media reactions to the case over the decades.

FSU Professor Houck said he was amazed to learn of the discovery of the warrant, figuring it could take an entire team several days to find the document.

“This is literally looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

Carolyn Bryant’s allegations that 14-year-old Emmett Till whistled at her at a grocery store sparked his kidnapping and lynching.

Bryant’s then-husband, Roy, and his half-brother, JW Milam, were accused of carrying out the gruesome acts. The two men were acquitted of murder following a trial in 1955. Bryant was never arrested.

“Why wasn’t she arrested immediately,” Houck said.

Houck said at the time, law enforcement admitted they didn’t want to arrest a mother of two, but he contends this new discovery puts that argument in an entirely different context. He believes agencies were searching for Bryant, who may have been hiding from law enforcement in the days and weeks after the murder.

“We’re going back to those documents and re-reading them, reading between the lines to see if they were pursuing her, and it seems like they were,” Houck said.

For whatever reason, deputies eventually gave up the effort, but for Beauchamp and others close to Till’s family, quitting is not an option.

“I have never stopped fighting the good fight on this case,” Beauchamp said.

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