The woman who accused 14-year-old Emmet Till of flirting with her in 1955 revealed for the first time that those claims were fabricated.
Vanity Fair reports that Timothy Tyson, the author of a new book titled The Blood of Emmett Till, spoke with Carolyn Bryant Donham, who was 21-years-old when she accused Till of making verbal and physical advances towards her. Donham’s claims against Till enraged two white men, J.W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant, who abducted and murdered Till three nights later, leaving his body bludgeoned, bruised and left at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi.
Both Milam and Bryant were ultimately acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. They later admitted to their crime in a story for Look magazine, for which they were compensated $3,000. Donham, who is now 82, testified at the trial. Her testimony further criminalized Till, whose humanity meant little to the jury of white men charged with seeking justice for a young black man accused of whistling at a white woman.
However, as Donham revealed to Tyson in his new book: “That part’s not true.”
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said.
Donham, who told Tyson that she couldn’t recall what happened during the remainder of the evening, took the stand during the trial and claimed she was “scared to death” in the moments that Till approached her. According to Vanity Fair:
She had asserted that Till had grabbed her and verbally threatened her. She said that while she was unable to utter the “unprintable” word he had used (as one of the defense lawyers put it), “he said [he had]’”—done something – “with white women before.’” Then she added, “I was just scared to death.” A version of her damning allegation was also made by the defendant’s lawyers to reporters. (The jury did not hear Carolyn’s words because the judge had dismissed them from the courtroom while she spoke, ruling that her testimony was not relevant to the actual murder. But the court spectators heard her, and her testimony was put on the record because the defense wanted her words as evidence in a possible appeal in the event that the defendants were convicted.)
Tyson is the first author to interview Donham, who actually approached Tyson initially because she was writing her memoirs ― which reportedly will not be released until 2036. According to Vanity Fair, Donham’s daughter enjoyed Tyson’s earlier book titled Blood Done Sign My Name, which focuses on another tragic murder provoked by race.
Vanity Fair reports that Donham didn’t “officially repent” for her actions by attempting to join racial justice groups for example but she did admit to feeling “tender sorrow” for Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003 and had committed her life to relentlessly fighting 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 reportedly wrote in his book.
Tyson’s book, which is to be published next week, is sure to reveal more about Donham’s actions but she, along with those who came to her defense, have already written a dark part of history that cost an innocent young black boy his life. We must never forget.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly reported the name of Tyson’s earlier book. It is titled, Blood Done Sign My Name.
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