Carolyn Bryant “the mouthpiece of a monstrous lie” is dead

Lee Heidhues 4.27.2023

Carolyn Bryant, the then 21 year old woman responsible for the gruesome murder of 14 year old Emmet Till in Mississippi nearly 68 years ago, which upended the civil rights debate in America is dead.

Excerpted from The New York Times 4.27.2023

Only two people knew exactly what happened during the minute they were alone together in the general store in Money, Miss., on Aug. 24, 1955.

One, Emmett Till, a Black teenager visiting from Chicago, died four days later, at 14, in a brutal murder that stands out even in America’s long history of racial injustice.

Carolyn Bryant in the courtroom during the trial of her husband accused of murdering Emmett Till. The jury acquitted him and his half brother J.W. Milam after one hour of deliberation.

The other was Carolyn Bryant. She was the 21-year-old white proprietress of the store where, according to her testimony in the September 1955 trial of her husband and his half brother for the murder, Emmett made a sexually suggestive remark to her, grabbed her roughly by the waist and let loose a wolf whistle.

Now Mrs. Bryant, more recently known as Carolyn Bryant Donham, has died at 88. On Thursday, Megan LeBoeuf, the chief investigator for the Calcasieu Parish coroner’s office in Louisiana, sent a statement confirming the death, on Tuesday, in Westlake, a small city in southern Louisiana. Ms. LeBoeuf did not provide further information.

With Mrs. Bryant’s death, the truth of what happened that August day may now never be clear.

Emmett Till, 14, murdered in Mississippi August 1955 with his mother

More than half a century after the murder, Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University historian who interviewed her, wrote that she had admitted to him that she had perjured herself on the witness stand to make Emmett’s conduct sound more threatening than it actually was — serving, in Dr. Tyson’s words, as “the mouthpiece of a monstrous lie.

The murder of Emmett Till was a watershed in United States race relations. Coverage of the killing and its aftermath, including a widely disseminated photograph of Till’s brutalized body at his open-casket funeral, inspired anguish and outrage, helped propel the modern civil rights movement and ultimately contributed to the demise of Jim Crow.

Top photo. Carolyn Bryant in the Mississippi courtroom with her accused husband – September 1955