Woman Who Caused Emmett Till’s Death Admits to Lying
by Breanna Edwards
Filed to: News
We all (should) know the story of Emmett Till, the black 14-year-old Chicago boy who was murdered in August 1955 by two white men, J.W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant.
As the story goes, Emmett, who was visiting family in Mississippi, had gone into a store to buy some bubble gum. As he was leaving, he is said to have whistled at Bryant’s 21-year-old wife, Carolyn.
In the Deep South, where racism was still violent as well as pervasive, Bryant and Milam took it upon themselves to abduct the young teen. They later admitted to killing Emmett, beating and mutilating him, shooting him to death and then sinking him in a local river. Emmett’s mother insisted on having an open-casket funeral for her disfigured son so that the world could witness the brutality of white supremacy.
His murder was a catalyst for the American civil rights movement.
Milam and Bryant were arrested for Emmett’s death, but the Deep South is as the Deep South does, and an all-white, all-male jury found them not guilty in a little over an hour. As the men stood trial, according to Vanity Fair, Carolyn Bryant testified that Emmett “had grabbed her and verbally threatened her. She said that while she was unable to utter the ‘unprintable’ word he had used ... ‘he said [he had]’—done something—‘with white women before.’”
The jury did not hear Carolyn Bryant’s testimony because the judge ruled that it was not relevant to Emmett’s murder, but the result was the same, and her testimony was still heard by court spectators and put on the record because the defense wanted to use it as evidence in case of an appeal if the defendants happened to be convicted.
However, now, Vanity Fair reports, Carolyn Bryant Donham (who has since been divorced and remarried twice more) has broken her decadeslong silence.
In a new book The Blood of Emmett Till, author Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar, reveals that in 2007 Donham, at the age of 72, admitted that she had made up the most damning part of her testimony.
“That part’s not true,” Donham reportedly told Tyson about her claim that Emmett made verbal and physical advances toward her.
Conveniently, according to Vanity Fair, she said that she couldn’t remember the rest of what happened that August evening in the store. The news site noted that the now-82-year-old’s whereabouts have been kept a secret by her family.
Tyson’s book is due to be published next week by Simon & Schuster. And, according to Vanity Fair, although several other authors have written about Emmett’s story, no one, with the exception of Tyson, has ever had the opportunity to interview Donham. Both her ex-husband and brother-in-law are now dead.
“That case went a long way toward ruining her life,” Tyson said, explaining how the elderly woman never escaped the case’s notoriety. (Poor thing. I wonder why?)
According to Vanity Fair, Donham was the one who approached Tyson because she was writing her memoirs. Her daughter had reportedly admired Tyson’s earlier book Blood Done Sign My Name, which is centered on another racially charged murder committed by someone known to Tyson’s family.
Tyson said that Donham has been changed by the social and legal advances that swept through the South in the past decades.
“She was glad things had changed [and she] thought the old system of white supremacy was wrong, though she had more or less taken it as normal at the time,” he added.
As Vanity Fair notes, however, she didn’t officially repent and is apparently not the type to join any racial-reconciliation groups.
However, Donham reportedly told Tyson, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”
Tyson writes that Donham “felt tender sorrow for Mamie Till-Mobley,” Emmett Till’s mother, who died in 2003 after decades spent advocating for her son and for civil rights.
“When Carolyn herself [later] lost one of her sons, she thought about the grief that Mamie must have felt and grieved all the more,” Tyson reflected.
Whether or not Donham feels “sorrow” or remorse or whatever it is, while it’s a nice sentiment for someone who has lived eight decades, it’s a little too late for a scared 14-year-old who was brutally murdered.
But hey, maybe her acknowledgment of Emmett Till and her own lies will allow us to properly look into the darkest parts of our history and push ourselves into action, particularly at a time when the nation seems more at odds than ever.
Read more at Vanity Fair.
News Editor at The Root, animation nerd, soca junkie, yogi
|Emmett Till remembered.|
|Emmett Till dead in casket.|
For her (Carolyn Bryant) to be so free of responsibility and accountability to anything or anyone that she, a murderer, wants to write mother-fucking memoirs about her “ruined” life? To what, get some $$ and gain some sympathy before she clocks out for good?? There is no end to white supremacy; she is actually trying to pass blood money down to her next-of-kin, and is picking a perfect time in society to attempt the stunt, as guiltless capitalists are wont to do. It’s the most American thing she can do at this point. There’s no such thing as contrition anymore, clearly. - Free Ron
I get that, but I honestly read it more as, “this case went a long way toward ruining her life, the only form of justice she’s faced in this life.” But, I’m an optimist. :-) - Andrew
I think your anger is going in the wrong direction. The researcher has the responsibility to present his research unvarnished by personal opinions. This is the attitude he gathered in his research, not his personal opinion. This guy has spent his life researching, writing about, and educating people about white supremacy in the south. His is by no means a white supremacist.
If you haven’t read "Blood Done Sign my Name", it’s worthwhile. -
If you haven’t read "Blood Done Sign my Name", it’s worthwhile. -
I have warned a number of Black hoodlums, even my own sons and nephews: "Crimes against white men carry a different penalty than Black men, and Lord help you if you ever commit one against a white woman! White folks will hunt you down like a dog!"
It is disturbing how one-sided forgiveness is for Black folks who forgive the evils white people do. It leaves one side unrepentant, and the other side with a feeling of having done a good Christian thing in Jesus' name and the spirit of dark evil running amonk, and the support of the U.S. government for the white supremacist groups intact. Forgiveness itself is liberating, but in the relationships between the conquered and the conqueror the balance forgiveness is supposed to restore is not a balance; it is not even restoration of a relationship or a friendship because this is the social construct white people initially erected! Forgiveness, as it is administered, is the opportunity for the dark evil to prevail and live unencumbered with the process that occurs when the two people come together and whites decide a Black life does not matter!"
~ Gregory E. Woods, Keeper of Stories Feb. 12, 2017
|Emmett Till's mother speaking at her son's funeral.|