In an unpublished memoir, Carolyn Bryant Donham says she didn’t know what was going to happen to the 14-year-old when he was kidnapped, killed and thrown into a river.
DURHAM, NC — The white woman who accused black teenager Emmett Till of making inappropriate advances before he was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 says she neither identified him to the killers nor wanted him murdered.
In an unpublished memoir obtained by The Associated Press, Carolyn Bryant Donham says she had no idea what would happen to 14-year-old Till, who lived in Chicago and was visiting relatives in Mississippi, when he was kidnapped, killed and thrown into a gun became river. Donham, now 87, was only 21 at the time. Her then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, were acquitted of the murder charge but later confessed in a magazine interview.
The contents of the 99-page manuscript, titled “I am More Than A Wolf Whistle,” were first reported by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. Durham historian and author Timothy Tyson, who said he received a copy from Donham when he interviewed her in 2008, provided a copy to the AP on Thursday.
Tyson had kept the manuscript in a University of North Carolina archives with an agreement that it would not be published for decades, though he said he turned it over to the FBI during an investigation the agency concluded last year. He said he decided to make it public now after the recent discovery of a warrant for kidnapping allegations that had been issued for Donham in 1955 but was never served.
“The potential for an investigation was more important than the archival arrangements, although those are important things,” Tyson said. “But this is probably the last chance for an indictment in this case.”
A cousin of Till, who runs the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, Deborah Watts, said the memoir is new evidence showing Donham’s involvement in the case and is particularly important when combined with the warrant.
“I truly believe that these developments cannot be ignored by Mississippi authorities,” she said.
In the memoir, Donham says she tried to help Till after he was found by her husband and brother-in-law and brought to her in the middle of the night for identification.
“I wished no harm on Emmett and I couldn’t help but harm him since I didn’t know what was planned for him,” Donham says in the manuscript, which her daughter-in-law compiled. “I tried to protect him by telling Roy, ‘He’s not the right one. He’s not. Please take him home.’” She alleges in the manuscript that Till, who was dragged from a family home at gunpoint in the middle of the night, spoke up and identified himself.
Donham adds that she “always felt like a victim like Emmett” and “paid dearly with a changed life” for what happened to him.
“I always prayed that God would bless Emmett’s family. I’m truly sorry for the pain that was inflicted on his family,” she says at the end of the manuscript, which is signed “Carolyn” but indicates it was written by her daughter-in-law, Marsha Bryant.
The memoir is notable not only because it is the most comprehensive account of the sensational episode ever recorded by Donham, but also because it contains contradictions that have raised questions about its veracity over the years, said Dale Killinger, a retired FBI official agent who investigated the case more closely than he did 15 years ago.
For example, in the memoir, Donham claims to have cried out for help after being confronted by Till at the family grocery store in Money, Mississippi, but no one has ever reported hearing her screams, Killinger said. Also, Donham has never before mentioned that she and Roy Bryant discussed the kidnapping. In the manuscript she says they did.
“That seems ridiculous,” Killinger said. “How would you have an important event in your life and not talk about it?”
The Justice Department completed its most recent investigation into the case in December, and Mississippi authorities have given no indication that they intend to pursue the kidnapping warrant or any other charges against Donham. But the Till family is urging the authorities to act.
Keith Beauchamp, a filmmaker whose documentary preceded the Justice Department investigation in which Killinger was involved and which ended without charge in 2007, said the memoir shows that Donham “is culpable for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Louis Till and not hers.” Accountability for their actions is an injustice to us all.”
“Our fight will continue until justice is finally served,” said Beauchamp.
It was Beauchamp, along with two of Till’s relatives, who discovered the warrant with Donham’s name on it earlier this month in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse.
Tyson, the historian who provided AP with the roughly 35,000-word manuscript, helped advance the government’s recent investigation into the murder by publishing a 2017 book in which he quoted Donham as saying she lied , when she claimed Till grabbed her, whistled and made sexual advances. However, in the memoir she claims Till did these things. During the recent investigation, Donham told the FBI she never recanted, the Justice Department said.
Tyson said Donham’s statements in the memoir exonerating herself of wrongdoing had to be taken with “a big shovelful of salt,” particularly her allegation that Till identified herself to the men who took him from the family home and later admitted to killing him.
“Two tall white men with guns came and dragged him at 2 a.m. in 1955 from his aunt and great-uncle’s home in the Mississippi Delta. I don’t think for a minute he identified himself,” Tyson said.
Neither Donham nor any of her relatives have responded to messages and phone calls from the AP for comment. It’s unclear where Donham currently resides or if she has an attorney. Her last known address was in Raleigh, North Carolina.
https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/emmett-till-accuser-denies-in-memoir-wanting-teen-murdered/507-cc23893d-12b3-4bfd-b1f1-999e79f602da Emmett Till’s accuser denies wanting him killed in memoir