The brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till has haunted and horrified decades of Americans. The story goes that in 1955, when Chicago native Till was visiting family in Sumner, Mississippi, he allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, the wife of a white man, Roy Bryant. Till said something “unprintable,” Carolyn told the court later. “[Till] said [he had done something] with white women before” and Carolyn was “just scared to death.”
Roy Bryant and his friend, J.W. Milam, were so furious that they abducted Till, disfigured and murdered him, and dumped his body in a river. Milam and Bryant were arrested, but the all-white jury who listened to Carolyn Bryant’s testimony voted “not guilty” in under an hour. The two men walked free, and the incident launched the modern-day Civil Rights movement.
But key details in the story might be incorrect, Vanity Fair reports — because the details are actually a lie.
Down through the decades, Carolyn Bryant Donham (she would divorce, then marry twice more) was a mystery woman. An attractive mother of two young boys, she had spent approximately one minute alone with Till before, in view of others, the alleged whistling had occurred. (He may not have whistled; he was said to have a lisp.) Carolyn then dropped out of sight, never speaking to the media about the incident. But she is hidden no more. In a new book, The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon & Schuster), Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar, reveals that Carolyn — in 2007, at age 72 — confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony. “That part’s not true,” she told Tyson, about her claim that Till had made verbal and physical advances on her. As for the rest of what happened that evening in the country store, she said she couldn’t remember. (Carolyn is now 82, and her current whereabouts have been kept secret by her family.) [Vanity Fair]
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SOURCE: The Week, Jeva Lange; Vanity Fair