Woman whose claims led to lynching of Emmett Till, dies

American Black teen Emmett Till was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by Carolyn Bryant's husband in August 1955. The lynching shocked the country and helped spur on the civil rights movement

Carolyn Bryant Donham, woman whose claims led to lynching of Emmett Till
Carolyn Bryant Donham, woman whose claims led to lynching of Emmett Till


The American white woman whose claims led to the murder of Black teenager Emmett Till in 1955, has died, according to a death report filed on Thursday in the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office.

The woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, died on April 25, in hospice care in Westlake, Louisiana. She was 88.

Donham's role in the lynching and murder of Till in August 1955 prompted calls for authorities to reopen the case, however the most recent probe in 2021 into the murder of Till saw no charges filed against her.

Donham's death marks the last chance for anyone to be held accountable for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, which spurred on the civil rights movement in the US.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that President Joe Biden was proud to sign the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act last year to make lynching a federal crime. “The president is committed to ... dealing with racial hatred,” Jean-Pierre said.

The murder in August 1955

In August 1955, 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham — known as Carolyn Bryant — accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of making improper advances on her at a store in the southern state of Mississippi.

Specifically she accused Till of whistling at and accosting her at the grocery store she was working at. These alleged actions flew in the face of the racist social codes of the Jim Crow era.

Days later, Till was abducted, tortured and shot before being thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open-casket funeral in their hometown Chicago so the world could see what had been done to her child.

The role of Donham in the murder of Till has been the subject of debate over the years, with a historian who published a book on the topic in 2017 saying that Donham's precise role remains murky.

Evidence indicates a woman identified Till to Donham's then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, who killed the 14-year-old boy.

An all-white jury acquitted the two white men in the killing, but the men later confessed in an interview with Look magazine. They have both since died.

Till's cousin issues statement on death of accuser, says no 'ill will'

The Rev. Wheeler Parker, a cousin of Till who was at the store in 1955, has said in interview and speeches that Till whistled at the woman. He is also the last living witness to Till's abduction.

“As a person of faith for more than 60 years, I recognize that any loss of life is tragic and don’t have any ill will or animosity toward her,” Parker said in a statement.

“Even though no one now will be held to account for the death of my cousin and best friend, it is up to all of us to be accountable to the challenges we still face in overcoming racial injustice,” he added.

In October, a bronze statue of Till was unveiled in Greenwood, Mississippi, just miles from his uncle’s home.

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