Carolyn Bryant Donham, who accused Emmett Till of flirting with her which led to the 14-year-old’s horrific murder, has passed away, reports CNN. She was 88.
Donham’s passing was confirmed by the Calcasieu Parish coroner’s office. No cause of death was disclosed.
Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice issued a statement on Thursday describing Donham's legacy as one of injustice and dishonesty.
“Carolyn Bryant’s death brings a conclusion to a painful chapter for the Emmett Till family and for Black people in America,” Shabazz said in a statement. “The tragic part about Bryant’s death was that she was never held accountable for her role in the death of young Emmett Till, who is the martyr for the Civil Rights Movement.”
In August 1955, following Donham’s accusation that Till whistled at her in a sexual manner, her then-husband Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam, kidnapped the teenager from his bed and put him on the back of a pickup truck
Till was brutally beaten, tortured and shot to death in the small community of Money, Mississippi. Then they tossed his mutilated body in the Tallahatchie River.
Bryant and Milam were both acquitted of murder by an all-white, male jury. Donham testified that Till physically assaulted and verbally threatened her.
After their acquittal, Bryant and Milam both confessed—under the protection of the Double Jeopardy law that states that one cannot be convicted twice of the same crime twice—to the murder in an interview with Look magazine.
Till’s murder became one of the key sparks that helped launch the Civil Rights Movement. His mother Mamie Till-Mobley decided to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral to show the world the result of the ever-present evil of white supremacy.
Over fifty thousand people attended Till’s funeral and Till-Mobley gave JET magazine permission to run photos of his body in the coffin in the article, “Nation Horrified by Murder of Kidnap Chicago Youth.” The graphic photos left an indelible mark on all those who witnessed them and made Till-Mobley a hero for her strength and dignity after experiencing the most vicious form of racial hate.
In December 2022, Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Mobley-Till were awarded Congressional Gold Medals posthumously.
Throughout the years, Till’s family wanted Donham to be brought to justice for for her fabricated story, which led to the murder of the Black teenager.
In an interview conducted in 2007 by author Timothy Tyson, she admitted that she lied about the incident. “That part’s not true,” she said in his book, The Blood of Emmett Till, which was released in 2017.
Back in 2018, the Department of Justice reopened the case that was originally closed in 2007. Eventually, the case was closed in December 2021 following the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division decision that it could not prove that Donham lied about her testimony. When questioned directly, Donham adamantly denied to investigators that she had recanted her testimony.
In August 2022, a grand jury in Leflore County, Mississippi, declined to indict Donham, ruling that there was "insufficient evidence to indict her on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter.”
“After hearing every aspect of the investigation and evidence collected regarding Donham’s involvement, the Grand Jury returned a ‘No Bill’ to the charges of both Kidnapping and Manslaughter,” the statement said. “The murder of Emmett Till remains an unforgettable tragedy in this country and the thoughts and prayers of this nation continue to be with the family of Emmett Till.”
Almost 70 years after Till’s murder, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime in April 2023.