White woman whose accusations led to Emmett Till’s lynching in 1955 has died
The white woman who accused a 14-year-old Black teenager of making lewd comments about her before he was brutally beaten and killed in Mississippi in 1955 has died.
Carolyn Bryant Donham, 88, was diagnosed with cancer and receiving hospice care in Louisiana. The Calcasieu Parish coroner’s office confirmed her death to Mississippi Today on 27 April.
Emmett Till was kidnapped, tortured, beaten and shot before his body was tied to fan blade and weighed down in a river in Mississippi nearly 70 years ago.
The men who killed him were acquitted by an all-white jury, then admitted to their crimes in a magazine interview a few months later. Both men have also since died.
Last year, a grand jury in Mississippi’s Leflore County declined to indict Donham, who was 21 years old when she testified in court that Till made unwanted advances against her.
An unserved warrant that was discovered in a county courthouse basement last year intended to charge her and her then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law JW Milam, but after Till’s murder, she was never taken into custody or charged with any crime in the decades that followed.
Nobody has been convicted for Till’s death, which galvanised a civil rights movement and attracted nationwide attention to lynchings and racist killings of Black Americans, underscoring the brutal legacy of segregation and Jim Crow-era violence.
Till’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003, was photographed in a defining image at his open casket funeral in Chicago. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my boy,” she said at the time.
Last March, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime more than a century after such legislation was first introduced.
“From the bullets in the back of Ahmaud Arbery, to countless acts of violence, countless victims both known and unknown … racial hate is not an old problem, it’s a persistent problem,” the president said in a signing ceremony at the White House last year. “Hate never goes away. It only hides, it hides under the rocks. Given just a little bit of oxygen it comes roaring back out, screaming. What stops it is all of us, not a few.”
The law designates lynching as a crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 433-7 and cleared the US Senate by unanimous consent.
In February of this year, Till’s cousin Priscilla Sterling filed a federal lawsuit against Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks, pressuring him to serve the 1955 warrant for Donham’s arrest. Earlier this month, his attorney asked a judge to dismiss the suit.