The PostScript

Emmett Till’s accuser recants claims that led to his death

Jerrica Thomas, staff writer

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Carolyn Bryant Donham admits in a new book that her testimony was false, as reported by Vanity Fair Jan. 26.

Donham was interviewed twice by Dr. Timothy B. Tyson, a professor at Duke University, for his book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” according to The Chicago Tribune and Richard Perez-Pena of The New York Times. During the conversations in 2007, Tyson and Donham discussed her allegations against Till. It was then Donham said, “That part is not true.”  

“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Donham said, as quoted by Tyson. Donham admits she “felt tender sorrow,” according to Sheila Weller of Vanity Fair when reflecting on that day.

Emmett Till, then 14 years old, was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi. On Aug. 24, 1955, he entered the store owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, according to Perez-Pena.  While in the store, witnesses recall he “wolf-whistled” at Bryant and made lewd comments.

Four days later, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till. He was beaten, tortured and shot in the head. Then, he was tied to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire and thrown in the Tallahatchie River, according to Perez-Pena.

Bryant and Milam were accused of Till’s murder but were acquitted as “not guilty” by an all-white, all-male jury, according to Perez-Pena.

Donham, then Carolyn Bryant, testified without a jury present. The judge dismissed the jury because her testimony was not relevant to the murder, according to Weller.

The Justice Department reopened Till’s case in 2004. Till’s body was exhumed for an autopsy June 1, 2002.  The FBI recovered the trial’s manuscripts in 2005. In 2007, a grand jury decided not to indict Donham.

Donham has been interviewed on the Till case only by Tyson. She allowed this because she was writing her own memoirs, which are in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC Chapel Hill’s library. Her memoirs will be unavailable to the public until 2036, according to Weller.

Tyson’s book “The Book of Emmett Till” was released Jan. 31.

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Emmett Till’s accuser recants claims that led to his death