Posted on August 3, 2022

White Woman, 88, Who Triggered the Lynching of Emmett Till, Is Seen for the First Time In 20 Years

Laura Collins et al., Daily Mail, August 1, 2022

Her accusation provoked an act of violence so unspeakable, its barbarity has resonated, undiminished, through the years.

Unseen for close to two decades, Carolyn Bryant Donham has evaded curious eyes and, some would say, justice.

Now, a investigation has led us to the woman whose claims led to the brutal lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955.

The case has been brought to the fore once again after an unserved warrant for Donham’s arrest almost 70 years ago was discovered by a team led by Till’s relatives early last month.

{snip} Donham presents a stooped and frail figure to a world that has dwindled to the confines of the home she shares with her son, Thomas Bryant, 71, and her pet shih tzu.

Then, she was a 21-year-old mother-of-two, a so-called ‘crossroads Marilyn Monroe.’

Today, Donham is 88 years old and, can reveal, living in a small apartment community in Kentucky.

She suffers from cancer, is legally blind, and is receiving end of life hospice care in the small, shared apartment – the exact location of which has chosen not to disclose. Tubes delivering oxygen loop over her ears and into her nose.

She has good days and bad. At times Donham appeared like a ghost, pale and peering out her front door with cloudy eyes, still dressed in her nightgown and robe in the late afternoon.

At others, she was visibly more engaged. Dressed in blue top and khaki slacks, she waited for a visit from her hospice nurse, greeting her at the door and waving her off with her little dog at her feet and the promise of seeing her ‘next week.’

When approached by this week, her son answered the door. Donham stood only a couple of feet behind him.

Asked if either would speak about Till and the events that destroyed and re-shaped the worlds of so many, Bryant shook his head while Donham stood by silently.

Here she is just an anonymous old lady, living out her final days with her son in the apparent tranquility of a southern backwater town. She was last seen in 2004 when she was known to be living in Raleigh, North Carolina.

But to many, this woman is on a par with a Nazi war criminal and the decades have done nothing to dim the horror of what passed or the anger and grief that it spawned.

Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, was visiting relatives near Money, Mississippi during the summer of 1955, when he entered a rural grocery store where Donham was working on August 24.

Donham, who is white, accused Till of whistling at her and grabbing her – a violation of the South’s racist societal codes at the time – prompting her then-husband Roy Bryant to brutally murder the boy in return.

Bryant, who died in 1994, was ultimately acquitted of murder. Donham, however, managed to evade charges or any consequences in a case that shocked the world for its brutality.

Just three weeks ago, crowds of angry protesters descended on three addresses in Raleigh, North Carolina in which they mistakenly believed her to be living.

Chanting black power slogans, they gathered outside two residential addresses and even stormed a nursing facility, unaware that she left the town and the state some months earlier.

Their actions were spurred on by the discovery of an unserved warrant for Donham’s arrest.

It was found by a five-person search team led by Till’s cousin Deborah Watts and her daughter Terri along with members from the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

They discovered the document inside a file folder that had been stored in a box in the basement of LeFlore County Circuit Court in Greenwood, Mississippi. Donham was identified only as ‘Mrs. Roy Bryant.’

Watts said that when they found the warrant, she and her daughter, ‘cried and hugged each other.’

‘Justice,’ she said, ‘Has to be done.’

Issued on August 29, 1955, the warrant was based on the Sheriff’s belief that Donham played a part in the kidnapping of Till, that she drove around the town of Money, Mississippi seeking him out and ultimately identified the terrified teen when he was brought to her on the night of Sunday August 28 that year, dragged from his bed, to be tortured and murdered by Donham’s husband Roy and half-brother, John Milam.

A police note on the back of the warrant says that she wasn’t arrested because she was not in the county.

Yet a local sheriff told reporters at the time that he didn’t want to ‘bother’ her since she had two little boys to care for.

Law enforcement have not said if they plan to ‘bother’ the woman who is now living out her final days in relative seclusion many miles away, but the smart money says it is unlikely despite the Till family’s calls for her arrest.

Instead, she lives out her days visited by caregivers, hospice nurses, and a chaplain whom observed carrying a bible as he entered Donham’s home.

If forgiveness is on her mind, it is never something Donham has publicly sought when it comes to her part in the Till’s horrific death.

In fact, in her most recent version of the events leading up to Till’s death – and there have been many – Donham attempted to absolve herself of any guilt.

Instead, in a memoir dictated to her former daughter-in-law and recently leaked, Donham claims that she lied in a bid to save Till and casts herself as a victim not perpetrator of the scene.

In the leaked 99-page document, ‘I Am More Than A Wolf Whistle,’ obtained by the Associated Press she wrote: ‘I did not wish Emmett any harm and could not stop harm from coming to him, since I didn’t know what was planned for him.’

She claimed: ‘I have always prayed that God would bless Emmett’s family. I am truly sorry for the pain his family was caused.

‘I tried to protect him by telling Roy that, ‘He’s not the one. That’s not him. Please take him home.’

But bizarrely, she claimed that Till himself told the violent racists who had abducted him that he had indeed catcalled her, stepping up to take blame in a way that defied all common sense.

As it was, according to Donham’s early accounts, Emmett’s only ‘offense’ was to wolf whistle at a white woman when he entered the grocery store that she ran with her husband who was out of town that day.

Last week MGM studios debuted the first trailer for their biopic ‘Till’ which will center on the character of Mamie who will be played by Danielle Deadwyler of ‘The Harder They Fall,’ fame. Whoopi Goldberg will also star.

In 2004, just one year after Mrs. Till’s death, the Justice Department opened a cold case investigation into the killing to see if any more charges could be brought.

After three years of investigation, in 2007, then District Attorney Joyce Chiles of Greenwood empaneled a grand jury to hear the case against Donham and what amounted to extensive evidence, including thousands of pages of documents, some uncovered by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp.

The grand jury declined to bring any indictments.

Keith Beauchamp claimed to have found other suspects who were still alive and eyewitnesses who stated that Donham was in the truck when Till was abducted.

Speaking recently on the discovery of the Donham’s unserved arrest warrant, Beauchamp said that as far as he was concerned Donham is a woman, ‘who has been evading justice for over 66 years now.’

The only reason she was never served with that warrant, Beauchamp said, ‘was because of the protection of white womanhood.’

In 2017 the book, ‘The Blood of Emmett Till,’ written by historian Timothy B Tyson, and including quotes from Donham whom Tyson interviewed for the work, muddied the waters still further, casting doubt on Donham’s courtroom testimony.

In her interview with Tyson, the historian claimed, she recanted much of the account she had given under oath, sparking Till family hopes that a day of reckoning might finally have come for Donham.

The FBI investigated but Tyson could provide no recordings, transcript or even notes to back up this incendiary claim.

Unable to stand up the allegation in the face of the woman’s denials, investigators ultimately closed the case in 2021 leaving the surviving members of the Till family, ‘heartbroken’ but ‘not surprised.’