The brutal murder of 14-year old Emmett Till in 1955 ignited outrage within the African-American community and was a major catalyst for the civil rights movement. Now, just days before the release of a new book The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson, it has been revealed that Carolyn, who is now 82-years old, has admitted to exaggerating the story about Till flirting with her.
Carolyn Bryant Donham was just 21-years old when she claimed that Emmett Till “grabbed her and made lewd comments” according to a report from Raw Story. Emmett and Carolyn were only left alone together for one minute inside the store that she and her husband owned because his cousin went outside. It was during that short time that Carolyn claimed the 14-year old boy was inappropriate with her.
Donham also accused Till of “wolf-whistling” at her. It has been suggested that she may have been mistaken to assume that Till was disrespectful because he reportedly had a lisp.
Emmett Till’s cousin Simeon Wright was only 12-years old at the time. When asked about the encounter decades later, Wright was adamant that it wasn’t possible for Till to have done the things that Donham accused him of, and now, as her story is being revealed, it turns out that Till and Wright were telling the truth.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Carolyn Bryant Donham said in the upcoming release The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson.
In 2007, Carolyn Bryant Donham was interviewed at her request in order to put together her own memoir. It was revealed during that interview that she fabricated the events that led her then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, to take the law into their own hands and never even pay for their crimes.
When Donham told her husband her tale of what had happened inside the shop with Emmett Till, Bryant and Milam admitted to kidnapping, beating, and then shooting Till dead. His body was later found in the Tallahatchie River.
Bryant and Milam were arrested and charged with the murder of Emmett Till. Despite admitting to kidnapping and beating Till so severely that he was no longer recognizable, the two men were never convicted of their crimes and walked free despite the horrific murder they committed.
During the trial, Carolyn Bryant Donham claimed that in addition to flirting with her, grabbing at her, and wolf-whistling at her, Till told her that he had experience with white women back home in Chicago. She also claimed that she couldn’t repeat the “unprintable” word that Till had used when explaining to her the things he had done with white women before.
Despite plenty of compelling evidence presented in the trial, an all-white jury refused to convict Bryant and Milam in the white-on-black murder of Emmett Till. It was due to Donham’s testimony during the trial that many believe Bryant and Milam walked free. Only four months after being acquitted, both men admitted that they did, in fact, kill Emmett Till.
To bring awareness to the brutal way in which Emmett Till was killed, his mother insisted on having an open casket at his funeral. The images of Till’s disfigured, battered and completely unrecognizable body spread quickly and were a key motivation for the civil rights movement.
After the trial, Carolyn Bryant Donham went into hiding. In the years that followed, she was never heard from in a public capacity again, refusing to grant interviews about the tragedy.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Donham agreed to speak to Timothy Tyson, with the intention of putting together a memoir. It was then that she admitted to making up much of her testimony. During the interview, Donham admitted to feeling a “tender sorrow” for Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003.
Carolyn Bryant Donham did put together her memoir, but it is not currently available to read. According to Vanity Fair, the manuscript for Donham’s recollection of the Emmett Till encounter, murder, and trial is housed at the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill library archives, and at her request, won’t be available for public viewing until 2036.
Timothy Tyson’s The Blood Of Emmett Till also contains Donham’s admission and is scheduled for release on January 31.
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]