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Carolyn Bryant Donham Dies at 88; Her Words Doomed Emmett Till | The New York Times

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Carolyn Bryant Donham Dies at 88; Her Words Doomed Emmett Till | The New York Times

Why It Matters
We are empowered by a complete and unvarnished history being taught in schools and homes. History must not be feared, manipulated, silenced ,or ignored. History must be embraced to ensure that we stand vigilantly against recurring oppression.

She accused Emmett, 14, of accosting her, and her testimony led to the acquittals of her husband and his half brother in a murder that helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

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.

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. 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.”

PHOTO CREDIT Carolyn Bryant with her husband, Roy Bryant, and their children during his trial in 1955. Credit, Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Shutterstock