In 1955, Carolyn Bryant Donham accused Emmett Till, 14, of accosting her in the Money, Miss., general store she owned. Her testimony led to the acquittals of her husband and his half brother in a murder that some credit to igniting the civil rights movement. In death — her passing was confirmed without details on Thursday by the Calcasieu Parish, La., coroner — Donham's role in the notorious murder and acquittals revives a debate about what exactly happened and whether Donham later recanted, the New York Times reports.
Carolyn Bryant was 21 when she testified at the September 1955 trial that Emmett came into the store and made a sexually suggestive remark to her. She also said he grabbed her roughly by the waist and let loose a wolf whistle. More than half a century after the murder, Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University historian who interviewed her, wrote that she had admitted to him that she had perjured herself on the witness stand to make Emmett’s conduct sound more threatening than it actually was — serving, in Tyson’s words, as “the mouthpiece of a monstrous lie.” The publication of his book on the case, “The Blood of Emmett Till” (2017), prompted the Justice Department to reopen an investigation, in which it subpoenaed Tyson’s research materials. The federal authorities said Bryant denied ever having changed her story, and they questioned Tyson’s claims, saying a tape recording of an interview that he had conducted with her, which he had provided to investigators, did not contain any sort of recantation. They closed the case in 2021 without bringing charges. In an unpublished memoir that surfaced last year, Bryant stood by her earlier description of events, though she said she had tried to discourage her husband from harming Emmett.