The woman at the center of the Emmett Till murder case has spoken out for the first time, more than 60 years later, admitting that part of her story about the black teenager is false, a new book claims.
Till’s brutal beating death in Mississippi in 1955, the acquittal of his professed killers by an all-white jury and the photos of his dead body sparked outrage outside the state — becoming a catalyst for the national civil rights movement.
Authorities say the 14-year-old from Chicago was killed during a visit to Mississippi after Carolyn Bryant Donham, a white woman then named Carolyn Bryant, reportedly accused him of grabbing her by the hand and waist and acting lewdly at her shop.
Till was kidnapped days later from a relative’s home and then beaten and mutilated, before being shot, by Donham’s shop-owner husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam.
Till’s body was sunk in the Tallahatchie River, where it was eventually found floating.
After a highly publicized trial, Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and murder in September 1955 by an all-white, all-male jury. They deliberated for an hour.
Donham testified at the trial and, according to Vanity Fair, her allegations were entered into the record and shared with reporters by her attorneys — but they were not heard by the jury, who had been excused from the courtroom.
In January 1956, Bryant and Milam confessed to their guilt in Till’s death in a Look magazine article. (Both men have since died.)
Donham avoided public attention for much of her life, ignoring journalists’ repeated requests. But she sat down with author and Duke University scholar Timothy B. Tyson 10 years ago for his new book, The Blood of Emmett Till, according to Vanity Fair and the Austin American-Statesman.
Donham’s 2007 interview with, when she was 72, is being published for the first time. Of her accusation that Till had physically and verbally harassed her, she told Tyson, according to Vanity Fair: “That part’s not true.”
“Honestly, I just don’t remember,” Donham said of her fateful meeting with Till, according to the Statesman. “It was 50 years ago. You tell these stories for so long that they seem true.” Donham’s allegation that Till whistled at her has also been disputed.
On the stand in 1955, however, Donham claimed Till had said something “unprintable” to her and she was “scared to death,” according to Vanity Fair.
Tyson said Donham, now 82, wrote her own memoir, More Than a Wolf Whistle, which is kept at the University of North Carolina but will not be available until the 2030s, at Donham’s request, according to Vanity Fair and the Statesman. (University officials could not immediately confirm the memoir’s existence.)
During their meeting, Tyson said Donham told him, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” She also expressed feeling “tender sorrow” for Till’s mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley.
Messages left with Donham and her relatives for comment on Tyson’s book were not returned Friday.
• Reporting by ADAM CARLSON
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