Woman responsible for death of Emmett Till reneges on accusation leading to his death 60 years later

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The infamous day of August 24, 1955: A black boy from Chicago, a white woman in Mississippi, and the whistle that everyone in America heard about. This was the ordeal that led to the lynching of Emmett Till and spurred the Civil Rights movement to action.

A name has resurfaced that most people wouldn’t recognize today: Carolyn Bryant. She was the white cashier who claimed that Till whistled at and/or assaulted her in her family’s convenience store. After hearing her account of the interaction with Till, her husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam proceeded to abduct fourteen-year-old Till, beat him beyond recognition and murder him.

Now, years later, the details of an interview between Bryant and a historian, Timothy Tyson, who recently wrote a book on the story are surfacing. The new book, The Blood of Emmett Till, was released on January 31 with expert commentary and a number of reviews already surfacing this weekend. Within the book, Tyson recounts the incident with all the data accumulated over the years, with an important interview from the one key witness still alive today, Bryant herself. 

During the interview, Bryant laments over the decades of guilt and remorse she experienced after Till was murdered. She admitted that her initial testimony was fabricated, and although Till did walk into her store, her account of a verbal assault and the notorious “whistle” was entirely untrue.

Bryant’s initial story brought out the worst of the American society. The white supremacy of the 1950s definitely skewed the society’s moral compass when handling the ordeal. An all-white male jury voted to acquit the two white males who publicly bragged about murdering a black boy. They got off scot-free because their word was considered law during this time, leaving black people with no means of telling their side of the story in this or any other case. 

After the trial, the Bryant family went on as normal: Roy’s usual anger and abusive tendencies left Carolyn more reserved after fitting into society’s view of the stereotypical damsel in distress, and she was less likely to go public with the truth, for fear of what her husband’s violent reactions would be.

In a way, it’s sad to see how Bryant has changed over the years into the restless and uneasy older woman she is today, being constantly associated with and plagued by her life’s greatest mistake. She is fully aware of her role and the white privilege she used to indirectly kill Emmett Till, but much of the public are dismissive of the confession that took 60 years to come to the surface.

The current political and social trends are starting to be more tolerable of the alt-right, causing the public to be desensitized to ideologies that are shared by white supremacists and their ilk. Yet, Bryant’s confession shows that she is remorseful, unlike the anger and bigotry associated with her demographic. While today’s alt-right and white supremacists remain unapologetic in their ideologies and practices, Tyson’s new book shows that Carolyn Bryant is finally and truly sorry for her actions.