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Carolyn Bryant, The Woman Behind The Lynching Of Emmett Till, Has Died



Carolyn Bryant, The Woman Behind The Lynching Of Emmett Till, Has Died
Till: Photographer unknown, Bryant: AP Photo/Gene Herrick

In in the late summer of 1955, the mutilated body of 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till was pulled from the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. This came after the boy was taken from his great uncle Moses Wright’s home several nights before by white men intending to lynch him. To understand why he was killed, we must examine the cause. And it all began with a woman by the name of Carolyn Bryant, also known as Carolyn Bryant Donham.

Emmett Till was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 25, 1941.  Till was sent to visit relatives down south in August 1955. During his stay, he was accused of whistling at a then-21-year-old Carolyn Bryant. She would later admit to lying. However, at that time, even being accused of speaking or looking at white people in the “wrong way,” resulted in harassment or worse—death. Unfortunately, Till was a victim of these social rules. On the night of August 28th, members of Emmett’s family saw him taken by Roy Bryant and JW Milam. During the time he was missing, he was beaten, shot in the head, then tied to a metal fan with barbed wire, and tossed into the river. The next day, they were arrested and two days later, Till was discovered. According to many historians, these events would later spark the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Mamie Till Mobley grieving the loss of her son Emmett at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, Illinois. Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum

Direct Aftermath

On September 3, Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett’s mother, held an open-casket funeral purposely to expose the horrors of lynching. Thousands of people came to see the body. Millions of people also saw Till’s bludgeoned face on the cover of Jet Magazine. A grand jury indicted Milam and Bryant following Till’s burial. Later that month, Jet magazine and The Chicago Defender published photos of Emmett’s body. The trial began. Mamie flew in to attend. During these legal proceedings, Moses Wright stood and pointed at the defendants, confirming their presence at the scene of the crime. An action that took a lot of bravery given the time period and setting.

On September 23, a jury of all white men acquitted Emmett’s killers. They deliberated for only 67 minutes. Multiple Europeans publications covered the trials. In November, the pair are officially free after a jury refuses to indict them on kidnapping charges. A January 1956 issue of Look Magazine published Milam and Bryant’s confessions to the murder. For their crimes, the pair received a reported $4,000.

Milam and Bryant light cigars and embrace their wives after being acquitted of Till’s murder. Photo Credit: Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting

In 2008, Bryant penned a memoir titled,  I Am More Than A Wolf Whistle. The book was set to be released after Bryant’s death in 2036, but details of the memoir was leaked by author Timothy Tyson after he interviewed her. The entire thing became accessible to the public in 2022. In the books, she claims she was grabbed by Till, but in the interview with Tyson, she took back the statement saying she made it up. In fact, over the last 60 years, she’s changed her story many times.

Generational Impact And Trauma

In 2022, a grand jury, nearly 70 years after the fact, decided to indict Bryant. However, after seven hours of deliberation, the jury found there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Bryant on kidnapping and manslaughter charges, further salting the wounds of many Black Americans. In an interview just a few days ago with Till’s cousin and best friend , Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. said now that Bryant is gone, all hopes of accountability are off the table.

Even though no one now will be held to account for the death of my cousin and best friend, it is up to all of us to be accountable to the challenges we still face in overcoming racial injustice.

Decades later, Black people are still being lynched by so-called vigilantes and police officers. In addition, , they are being subjected to inhumane treatment via mass incarceration and stop-and-frisk laws. Naturally, Bryant’s passing has made many people emotional. Some people are expressing sorrow over Emmett’s short life, while some are celebrating Bryant’s death. And though most parties involved in the case are all gone now, the tragedy and injustice is still felt among the different generations of Black Americans.

Written by Kimberly Stelly | Letterboxd | Instagram | Twitter

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Kimberly Stelly is an award-winning journalist and cartoonist from the Bay Area. In addition to FM Hip-Hop, she writes for ScreenRant and manages social media for

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