Woman says claims that led to Emmett Till’s lynching ‘not true’

It was September of 1955 when Emmett Till arrived in Summer, Mississippi, from Chicago before he was brutally murdered by J.W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant.

Till had apparently done something, likely whistling at Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, and three nights later, Bryant and Milam abducted Till and beat and shot him to the point that he was so badly disfigured that the horrifying description would help rally civil rights cries across the nation.

During the trial, Carolyn Bryant testified that she was “just scared to death.” She claimed that Till had grabbed her and threatened her with an “unprintable” word. The jury didn’t hear her testimony, but court spectators did, and it was also published on the record to be used in evidence in an appeal if Mila and Bryant were convicted. But Mila and Bryant were both found “not guilty.”

While Carolyn Bryant Donham largely remained out of the spotlight and never spoke to the public about what had happened, in his new book, The Blood of Emmett Till, Timothy Tyson managed to speak with her about that fateful day and about her damning testimony.

“That part’s not true,” she admitted of her claims to being assaulted and threatened. But as to whether or not he whistled at her, and what else happened that day, she claimed that she simply doesn’t remember anymore.

Tyson, who had been approached by Carolyn because her daughter was an admirer of his work and because she was working on her own memoirs, noted that she seemed to have been changed over the years after the advances of the Civil Rights movement and other events. “She was glad things had changed [and she] thought the old system of white supremacy was wrong, though she had more or less taken it as normal at the time,” he wrote.

Carolyn also said of Till’s death that “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” expressing her “tender sorrow” for what had happened. It’s the closest to an official apology she has ever come, as she has never publicly been part of reconciliation efforts and has not appeared at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center.

The Blood of Emmett Till comes out next week.