More than 60 years after an all-white, all-male jury acquitted two Mississippi men in the murder of 14-year-old Chicago boy Emmett Till, author Timothy Tyson is hoping to spark renewed interest in the 1955 murder that ushered in the civil rights movement.
Through his new novel, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” Tyson uncovers a haunting revelation that has remained untold for the past six decades, straight from the mouth of the woman who was at the center of the case: Carolyn Bryant. In it, Bryant admits to fabricating the details of her encounter with Till, muddling white America’s perceptions about the motive behind the young teen’s slaying.
Set for release next week, Tyson’s book revisits Till’s murder case, in which two white men — J.W. Milam and his half-brother, Roy Bryant — were tried for brutally beating and killing the boy after he allegedly whistled at Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, at the local country store. Furious, Milam and Bryant took matters into their own hands and kidnapped Till, who was visiting from Chicago, just three days later.
Till’s body was later found floating in the Tallahatchie River, so badly swollen and disfigured that he was unrecognizable. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, specifically requested an open- casket funeral so that the world could see exactly what Milam and Roy Bryant had done to her son. A trial for the Mississippi men soon followed, which ultimately ended with a “not guilty” verdict. But it was Carolyn Bryant’s testimony during the trial that likely influenced the jury’s perception of Till and why he was murdered.
On the stand, Carolyn Bryant testified that the Chicago boy had grabbed and physically threatened her, alleging that Till told her [he had] “‘done something with white women before.”‘ Fast forward to 2007 during her sit-down with Tyson and Carolyn Bryant backtracks, admitting she lied about that particular part of her story.
“That part [was] not true,” she told Tyson of her claim that Till was verbally and physically aggressive towards her. Carolyn Bryant, who has remained largely hidden from society since the teen’s murder, said what happened the rest of that evening at the store was a blur. She is now 82 years old and her whereabouts have been kept secret by her family, according to Vanity Fair.
In his book, Tyson charged that the Till case had gone “a long way toward ruining [Carolyn’s] life,” but also highlighted the grief and remorse she felt after the murder. The author detailed how Carolyn Bryant, who is now Carolyn Bryant Donham, actually reached out to him following the release of his previous book about another race-related killing committed by someone known by Tyson’s family, Vanity Fair reported.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Donham told the author. She also expressed sympathy and “tender sorrow” for Mamie Till-Mobley and said she couldn’t imagine the pain Mobley felt after losing Emmett until she lost one of her own sons.
“She was glad things had changed [and she] thought the old system of white supremacy was wrong, though she had more or less taken it as normal at the time,” Tyson wrote.
Donham has since gone back into hiding, but Tyson noted that her revelation at such a time of intense racial and political tension was all the more reason to revisit the tragic murder of Emmett Till.