In 1955, Emmett Till was brutally murdered. The story was that he, an African-American fourteen year old, flirted with a white woman working in a store. At the time, the woman alleged that Till “grabbed her, made lewd advances, and then wolf-whistled at her.” In retribution, the woman’s husband and brother-in-law tracked down Till, beat him, and shot him. And then a Mississippi jury found them “not guilty” of the murder.
Now, new information is coming to light. On Friday, Vanity Fair broke the story that author Timothy Tyson found the woman Till allegedly harassed.
Over sixty years later, that woman — Carolyn Bryant Donham — is recanting her story about Till.
Tyson, a senior research scholar at Duke University, interviewed Donham in 2007 for his book The Blood of Emmett Till. Vanity Fair says it was then that she confessed her allegations were false:
It’s true that Carolyn Bryant Donham should’ve come forward years ago. Further, she should not have alleged something untrue in the first place. But the fact remains that Emmett Till didn’t deserve to die regardless. Whether he simply whistled, or wolf-whistled at a white woman, or aggressively came onto her, none of those acts would’ve been worthy of the fate he faced.
Still, it’s important to many that the truth has now come to light.
“I was hoping that one day she would admit it, so it matters to me that she did, and it gives me some satisfaction,” a cousin of Emmett’s named Wheeler Parker told The New York Times. “It’s important to people understanding how the word of a white person against a black person was law, and a lot of black people lost their lives because of it. It really speaks to history, it shows what black people went through in those days.”
The Project Coordinator at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, Patrick Weems, also spoke out.
The tragic circumstances of Emmett Till’s murder will always be haunting to hear. Even more so now that we know the truth of what happened.