The white woman from Mississippi whose accusations in 1955 that a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago had made verbal and physical advances toward her caused him to be brutally murdered admitted half a century later that she lied.
Emmitt Till’s murder was a catalyst for 20th century civil rights movement, and a Vanity Fair article reveals that in 2007, Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman whose husband was one of two men that murdered Till, admitted to Duke University senior research scholar Timothy Tyson “that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony.”
“That part’s not true,” she told Tyson, about her claim that Till had made verbal and physical advances on her. As for the rest of what happened that evening in the country store, she said she couldn’t remember. (Carolyn is now 82, and her current whereabouts have been kept secret by her family.)
That 2007 revelation is part of Tyson’s new book, to be published next week, The Blood of Emmitt Till. Tyson is the first author who has written on the topic of Till’s death to have ever interviewed Carolyn Bryant.
“That case went a long way toward ruining her life,” Tyson told Vanity Fair, adding that she could never escape its notoriety. The magazine says that Tyson’s “compelling book is suffused with information that Donham, over coffee and pound cake, shared with him in what he calls a ‘confessional’ spirit.”
The article says that Bryant approached Tyson because she was in the process of writing her memoirs. There seems to be a lean toward painting her as a sympathetic character even though she caused one of the most public and brutal murders of the Jim Crow era.
After reading the Vanity Fair piece, I am unsure whether I should hate her or feel sorry for her. There is no mention of her openly expressing guilt, but a reference to her “tender sorrow” she has sounding like “late-blooming regret.”
If she is not offering an open apology, even after all this time, for causing Till’s death (and even if she had), I am not understanding why she is being presented as a sympathetic character.
Nevertheless, morbid curiosity will lead to me buying this book next week so that I can read it for myself and understand just what telling this romanticized story of Carolyn Bryant does to help us understand Emmett Till’s murder.
You can read more about Bryant and Tyson’s book at Vanity Fair.