The white woman whose allegations of a 14-year-old black boy making "verbal and physical advances" led to his brutal murder in 1955 has admitted she lied. Carolyn Bryant Donham, now 82, spoke with The Blood of Emmett Till author Timothy Tyson about the Mississippi killing of Emmett Till and claimed she feels "tender sorrow" for Till's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley.
"That part's not true," she told Tyson of her previous claims of Till's verbal and physical advances during a discussion in 2007, Vanity Fair reported Thursday. Tyson's book, available next week, marks the first time Carolyn Bryant has been interviewed by a writer. "That case went a long way toward ruining her life," Tyson said, noting that she never "officially" repented.
The murder of Emmett Till began with the teen being abducted at gunpoint from a relative's home in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi on Aug. 28, 1955. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, both white, were acquitted of the murder by an all-white jury before issuing a public confession just months later in Look magazine.
"I'm no bully; I never hurt a [n-----] in my life," Milam was quoted as saying, according to Time. "I like [n-----s]—in their place—I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, [n-----s] are gonna stay in their place."
Many historians consider Mamie's decision to hold an open casket funeral for her son a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. "She saw Emmett as being crucified on the cross of racial injustice," Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, told Smithsonian in 2015. The moment, Bunch added, placed a spotlight on the nation's biggest problems and helped push us toward activism.
"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 told Vanity Fair Thursday. Carolyn's current whereabouts are reportedly being "kept secret" by family members. A manuscript of her memoirs, held at the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill archives, will be made available to the public in 2036.