Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusation led to death of Emmett Till, dies at 88 | Mississippi

The white woman whose allegations resulted in the torture and murder of the Black teen Emmett Till, an unpunished killing that outraged America and fueled the civil rights movement, has died.

On Thursday, the Calcasieu parish coroner’s office in Louisiana confirmed the death of Carolyn Bryant Donham, Mississippi Today reported. She was 88 and was reported to have had cancer, in hospice care.

In 1955, Till was 14 when, while visiting family in Mississippi, he was accused by Donham, then 21, of making lewd comments and grabbing her at a grocery store.

Days later, Till was kidnapped at gunpoint by two white men. Evidence indicated that a woman, thought to be Donham, identified Till to them.

The attackers beat Till, dragged him to a river and shot him in the head. They used barbed wire to tie his body to a large metal fan before dumping both in the river.

Till’s disfigured corpse was found days later.

His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, decided to leave her son’s casket open during his funeral in Chicago, to “let the world see what they did to my boy”.

Mobley’s decision triggered nationwide outrage, fueling protests for civil rights reform.

According to an unserved 1955 arrest warrant, Donham, her then husband Roy Bryant and her brother-in-law JW Milam were charged with Till’s abduction.

Despite the warrant being publicly released at the time, the county sheriff told reporters he did not want to “bother” Donham since she had two young children to care for, according to the Associated Press. The sheriff also claimed Donham could not be located for arrest.

Bryant and Milam were tried for murder but acquitted by an all-white jury. Months later, in a magazine interview, they confessed to killing Till. Both have since died.

According to an unpublished memoir by Donham, reviewed by the AP, she said she had not known what would happen to Till. She claimed she tried to deny Till’s identity when the two men brought him to her. But Till identified himself, she said.

Donham also revealed that after her husband and brother-in-law were arrested, two men from the sheriff’s office drove Donham and her sister-in-law to the prison for a relaxed visit outside the cells, before driving the women home.

In February, Till’s cousin, Patricia Sterling, filed a federal lawsuit seeking Donham’s arrest. The suit sought to compel the sheriff’s office in Leflore county to serve the 1955 arrest warrant, which was discovered last year, in a courthouse basement. A grand jury declined to indict.

News of Donham’s death triggered widespread reaction online.

“Justice could have been served,” one user tweeted. Another wrote, “My thoughts are … with the family of Emmett Till who worked to bring him and Mamie Till-Mobley justice. Please direct your love toward them today.”

Nina Turner, a progressive activist and former Ohio state senator, wrote: “Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman whose accusation set off the lynching of Emmett Till nearly 70 years ago, has died at 88. She got to grow old. Emmett Till did not get that opportunity. Rest in power, Emmett.“

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