“In August 1955, Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he stopped at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. There he encountered Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Whether Till really flirted with Bryant or whistled at her isn’t known. But what happened four days later is. Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, seized the 14-year-old from his great-uncle’s house. The pair then beat Till, shot him, and strung barbed wire and a 75-pound metal fan around his neck and dumped the lifeless body in the Tallahatchie River. A white jury quickly acquitted the men, with one juror saying it had taken so long only because they had to break to drink some pop. When Till’s mother Mamie came to identify her son, she told the funeral director, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.” She brought him home to Chicago and insisted on an open casket. Tens of thousands filed past Till’s remains, but it was the publication of the searing funeral image in Jet, with a stoic Mamie gazing at her murdered child’s ravaged body, that forced the world to reckon with the brutality of American racism.” – Time
Just yesterday (Friday, 27 January 2017), it was made known that the person who caused Emmett Till’s murder, Carolyn Bryant (Donham) confessed that she lied back in 1955. She lied … because … ??? Who knows? The reality is that all Emmett Till did was wolf-whistle at 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant who was working behind the counter in the family-owned grocery store where Till was paying for his bubble gum. A 14-year-old kid. Whistled at an attractive young woman. And for this he lost his life in the most brutal fashion imaginable.
Carolyn actually walked to the door behind young Emmett and his cousins, whereby Emmett, being from Chicago and not familiar with “southern protocol” waved, said “good-bye”, not “good-bye ma’am”, as was the “proper” way for a black male to address a white female in the racist southern culture, and as he reached the car, gave a wolf-whistle. Carolyn, apparently never having been whistled at before, said she was afraid. She was Afraid. Of a Whistle. That evening, she reported the incident to her husband Roy, but she embellished the story just a bit. She said that Emmett had grabbed her and was menacing and sexually crude toward her. Mr. Bryant, a good ol’ southern white boy, was instantly enraged and along with his friend, J.W. Milam dragged Emmett out of his uncle’s home where he was visiting, beat him, shot him, wrapped barbed wire around his neck, tied a 75-pound weight around him and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River. All because he whistled and did not say “ma’am”. Let that one sink in for a minute.
Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were tried the following month, and were acquitted by an all-white jury after only 67 minutes of deliberation, during which time the jury took one break. The next year, Bryant and Milam confessed to killing Till in an interview with Look Magazine for which they were reportedly paid between $3,600 – $4,000. The law of double jeopardy prevented them being tried again, though I would argue that their public confession constituted new evidence and therefore they could have been re-tried. But alas, it was Mississippi in the 1950s.
Now fast-forward to yesterday, when it was made public that Ms. Donham actually confessed to the lie in 2007. Yes, ten years ago, Donham, formerly Carolyn Bryant, confessed to Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University professor and historian, specializing in issues of race and culture associated with the Civil Rights movement. It is believed to be the only interview she has ever given. Why did Tyson wait ten years to share this knowledge with the public? Because he wanted to write a book. Yes, folks, Timothy B. Tyson withheld information about a lie that led to murder for ten years for p-r-o-f-i-t. Tyson’s book, titled The Blood of Emmett Till, is to be released next Tuesday, 31 January, and I hope it does not sell a single copy. This man withheld this information for TEN YEARS so that he could profit from a book. He is a disgrace to mankind.
As noted in the first paragraph, Emmett Till’s mother demanded an open casket because she wanted the world to see what had been done to her son. Sadly, she died in 2003 without learning the truth. Or, perhaps it was better that she not know. The murder of Emmett Till is considered to be one of the catalysts that prompted the Civil Rights movement.
Mr. Tyson noted in an interview on Friday with Vanity Fair magazine that “That case went a long way toward ruining her [Donham’s] life.” Perhaps I am cruel and heartless, but I have zero sympathy for Ms. Donham. It happened 62 years ago. Nothing that has happened since that day would have changed the outcome for Emmett Till. But there is a lot of guilt to go around here, including the guilt of Timothy B. Tyson for withholding information from law enforcement and the public for ten long years while he wrote his book.
Today, after reading about Ms. Donham’s confession and writing this post, I am thinking of Ferguson, Missouri and the killing of Michael Brown. I think of Sanford, Florida and the killing of Trayvon Martin. I think of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Different situations, certainly, but I wonder if in 50-60 years, somebody will come forward and say, as Ms. Donham did … “I lied”.