On August 21, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till arrived in Money, Mississippi to visit his uncle, Mose Wright. Three days later, Till went to a store owned by a white couple to buy bubble gum. As he left the establishment, he reportedly whistled at the 21-year-old owner, Carolyn Bryant. At the time, Bryant claimed Till grabbed her hand and tried to come on to her, asking for a date, which was later revealed in her testimony.
Four days after the encounter, Bryant’s husband and his half-brother, John William “J.W.” Milam, kidnapped Till, beat and shot him to death, leaving his body terribly disfigured.
The two men were arrested and charged, however with the help of an all-white, all-male jury, they were acquitted. Decades later, the woman behind the murder that helped drive the American civil rights movement, admitted to exaggerating the story that led to the mutilation of Till’s body.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Carolyn Bryant Donham is quoted saying in “The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy Tyson.
For years after the trial, Bryant went into hiding. She divorced, remarried, divorced and remarried again, without ever giving an interview on what really happened on August 24th at the store in Mississippi. However, in 2007, things changed when the then-72-year-old agreed to speak with Tyson.
In her conversation with Tyson, she confessed to fabricating the main part of her testimony.
“That part’s not true,” Bryant said, referring to her claim that Till tried to come on to her with verbal and physical advances. In regards to what else really happened at the store in 1955, she said she couldn’t remember, but she did say she “felt tender sorrow” for Till’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003.
Bryant, now 82, has retreated back to seclusion and her whereabouts have been kept a secret.