Carolyn Byrant Donham, Emmett Till accuser, dead at 88
Carolyn Bryant Donham was at the center of the murder of the 14-year-old boy in 1955.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African American boy visiting family for the summer in Money, Mississippi in 1955. Just days after his arrival, he was kidnapped and murdered. Till was killed after being accused of whistling at a White woman when leaving a store.
The woman who made the accusation against Till, Carolyn Bryant Donham, has now died at the age of 88. She passed away in Louisiana after suffering from cancer.
Donham’s husband at the time, Roy Bryant, along with her brother-in-law, J.W. Milam admitted to kidnapping Till from his great uncle Moses Wright’s before beating and hanging the child.
RELATED: Two Mississippi Museums feature “Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley: Let The World See”
Till’s body was found four days later in the Tallahatchie River, nearly unrecognizable. His mother, Mamie Till, fought to have her son’s body brought back to her in Chicago where there was an open casket funeral. Over 100,00 visitors witnessed the funeral.
“Let the world see what they did to my boy,” Mamie was quoted as saying.
In 2017, Donham recanted her testimony that Till had grabbed her and made lewd advances while whistling at her. She said he in fact never touched, threatened or harassed her.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” said said.”
Despite their admissions, a jury found Bryant and Milam not guilty in a deliberation that only lasted 67 minutes. Milam died of cancer in 1980, and Bryant died in 1994.
In 2022, Donham released a 99-page manuscript to the Associated Press regarding her perspective on what happened to Till. She claimed that she never wanted him to be killed and attempted to help him after he was kidnapped and brought to her for identification in the middle of the night. Donham says in her memoir she denied it was Till so that he wouldn’t be harmed.
The U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into Till’s murder in 2004. The DOJ said that due to the statute of limitations there was little potential for a federal crime to be prosecuted.
Till’s family made attempts to have Donham prosecuted but in August 2022 a Leflore County grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to indict her on charges of kidnapping and manslaughter. Documents of an unserved arrest warrant for Donham were found two months earlier in June. Included were warrants for Milam and Bryant that were served.
In 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, officially making lynching a federal hate crime.