Local officials in Bowling Green, Kentucky, announced Saturday that an annual Christmas parade was canceled after protesters seeking justice for Emmett Till received a message from someone threatening to shoot them.
The Bowling Green Jaycees Christmas Parade had been scheduled for Saturday in the city’s downtown area, and protesters seeking accountability for the 1955 lynching of Till, a Black 14-year-old who was falsely accused of harassing a white woman, planned to gather the same day at the nearby Warren County Justice Center.
“All of our Bowling Green citizens need to be aware of this threat in our city,” officials wrote on Twitter. “Due to the threat, this morning’s Christmas parade has been cancelled for today.”
Bowling Green police and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office posted a video on Facebook early Saturday morning, alerting the public of the threat to shoot anyone who showed up for the protest. Sheriff Brett Hightower said they learned of the messages late on Friday night.
“As of this moment we have not been able to determine the validity of this threat. However, we feel it is important to alert our citizens,” he said.
National activist groups, including the Veterans’ Association of African Descendants, True Healing Under God (THUG), the New Black Panther Party, and the Coalition of Justice for Emmett Till, planned to protest at the last known address of Carolyn Bryant Donham in Bowling Green, according to local press.
Donham, now 89, is the white woman whose accusations against Till led to his brutal torture and lynching. A 2017 book revealed that she had acknowledged the claim that Till made physical and verbal advances toward her was not true. Her lie became the center of renewed public interest in June after an unserved warrant for her arrest, dated the year Till was murdered, was found in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse. In August, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Donham, saying there was insufficient evidence.
But protesters have continued to call for her to face criminal charges, and on Saturday, they gathered in spite of the threat.
“We still want Carolyn Bryant brought to justice,” Priscilla Sterling, a protester who drove from Jackson, Mississippi, to Bowling Green, told Western Kentucky University’s College Heights Herald on Saturday. “We want a trial. ... The law should be applied to her too.”
Police have not publicly announced the source of the threat or more about what motivated it. The Bowling Green police department did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment on Saturday.
According to local reports, Saturday’s protests lasted nearly four hours, as people first gathered outside the Warren County Justice Center and moved to an apartment complex that has been reported as Donham’s last known residence. The attendees called on local authorities to fulfill the 1955 warrant and arrest Donham.
Some protesters were armed, which organizer Mmoja Ajabu said was for their own protection.
“The responsibility of our safety is ours,” Ajabu said. “So yes, we’re armed — not because we came here to shoot nobody, not because we came here to hurt anybody — but we do understand, as a Vietnam veteran, when there is a threat, you’ve got to neutralize the threat.”
Outside the apartment complex, several chanted, “you’re protecting a murderer” to the police and private security that surrounded it.
The Kentucky Museum and the city’s annual Mistletoe Market also canceled their festivities on Saturday, with the museum citing “events beyond our control” as the reason for cancellation on Facebook. Mary John Carmon, the Christmas parade chair, said the organization was working on rescheduling the parade for a later date via a Facebook post on Saturday. “With this latest information we knew that postponing was our best option,” Carmon wrote.