Carolyn Bryant Donham, The Woman Whose Accusations Caused Emmett Till Lynching, Died At 88

Carolyn Bryant Donham, The Woman Whose Accusations Caused Emmett Till Lynching, Died At 88

According to The New York Post, Carolyn Bryant Donham, a white woman who claimed that Black teenager Emmett Till had made inappropriate advances before he got lynched in Mississippi in 1955, has passed away at the age of 88 while receiving hospice care in Louisiana.

A death report was submitted to the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office in Louisiana on Thursday, stating that Donham passed away Tuesday night in Westlake.

When Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in their hometown of Chicago following the recovery of his tortured body from a Mississippi river, his kidnapping and murder catalyzed the civil rights movement. Photos appeared in Jet magazine.

In August 1955, Till took a trip from Chicago to see family in Mississippi. Donham, known as Carolyn Bryant, claimed Emmett Till made inappropriate advances toward her in the small town of Money’s grocery store.

According to NPR, Till’s cousin, The Rev. Wheeler Parker, who was present, claimed Till whistled at the woman as a prank when he was 14 years old, defying the racist social mores of the time in Mississippi.

The teenager was killed by Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, according to evidence that a woman gave to them. The two white men who committed the murder got cleared by a white-only jury, but they later admitted their guilt in an interview with Look magazine.

Donham claimed that she was unaware of what would happen to the 14-year-old Till in an unpublished memoir that, The Associated Press obtained in 2022. At the time, Donham was 21.

The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting was the first to report on the information contained in the 99-page manuscript titled “I am More Than A Wolf Whistle.” The AP received a copy from Durham historian and author Timothy Tyson, who claimed to have obtained it from Donham during their 2008 interview.

Though he claimed he gave it to the FBI during an investigation the agency wrapped up last year, Tyson had deposited the manuscript in an archive at the University of North Carolina with the understanding that it would not be made public for decades. He claimed that the recent discovery of a 1955 arrest warrant for Donham on kidnapping charges didn’t get executed led him to decide to make it public at this time.