DURHAM, N.C. ( Associated Press) — The white woman who accused black teenager Emmett Till of making inappropriate advances before he was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 says she didn’t identify him to killers or want him killed .
In an unpublished memoir obtained by The Associated Press, Carolyn Bryant Donham says she was unaware of what would happen to 14-year-old Till, who was living in Chicago and visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was kidnapped, killed and dumped. in a river. Now 87 years old, Donham was only 21 at the time. Her then-husband Roy Bryant and her half-brother JW Milam were acquitted of murder charges, 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 obtained a copy from Donham while interviewing her in 2008, provided a copy to the Associated Press on Thursday.
Tyson had placed the manuscript in an archive at the University of North Carolina with an agreement that it would not be made public 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 go public now after the recent discovery of an arrest warrant for kidnapping charges that was issued for Donham in 1955 but never served.
“The potential for an investigation was more important than the filing agreements, although those are important things,” Tyson said. “But this is probably the last chance for an indictment in this case.”
A cousin of Till’s 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 arrest warrant.
“I truly believe that the Mississippi authorities cannot ignore these developments,” he said.
In the memoir, Donham says he tried to help Till once her husband and brother-in-law tracked him down and took him away in the middle of the night for identification.
“He wished Emmett no harm and could not prevent harm from happening to him, as he did not know what was planned for him,” Donham says in the manuscript compiled by his daughter-in-law. “I tried to protect him by telling Roy that ‘He’s not the one. That is not him. Please take him home.’” She claims in the manuscript that Till, who had been taken from a family home at gunpoint in the middle of the night, spoke and identified himself.
Donham adds that she “always felt like a victim just like Emmett” and “paid dearly with an altered life” for what happened to her.
“I have always prayed that God bless Emmett’s family. I’m really sorry for the pain it caused his family,” he says at the end of the manuscript, which is signed “Carolyn” but indicates it was written by his daughter-in-law Marsha Bryant.
The memoir is notable not only because it is the longest account of the sensational episode Donham has ever recorded, but also because it contains contradictions that cast doubt on its veracity over the years, said Dale Killinger, a retired FBI agent who investigated the incident. case further. than 15 years ago.
For example, Donham claims in the memoir to have screamed for help after Till confronted him inside the family grocery store in Money, Mississippi, but no one reported hearing his screams, Killinger said. Additionally, Donham never previously mentioned that she and Roy Bryant discussed the kidnapping. In the manuscript, she says yes.
“That seems ridiculous,” Killinger said. “How could you have an important event in your life and not talk about it?”
The Justice Department closed its most recent investigation into the case in December, and Mississippi authorities have given no indication they plan to file a warrant or other charges against Donham. But the Till family is pressuring the authorities to act.
Keith Beauchamp, a filmmaker whose documentary preceded the Justice Department investigation Killinger was involved in that ended without charge in 2007, said the memoir shows that Donham “is guilty of the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Louis Till and of not being guilty.” holding her accountable for her actions is an injustice to all of us.”
“Our fight will continue until justice is finally served,” Beauchamp said.
It was Beauchamp, along with two of Till’s relatives, who discovered the arrest warrant bearing Donham’s name earlier this month in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse.
Tyson, the historian who provided the roughly 35,000-word manuscript to the Associated Press, helped fuel the government’s latest investigation into the murder by publishing a book in 2017 in which he quoted Donham as saying she lied when she claimed Till grabbed her. , whistled and made sexual advances. In his memoirs, however, he claims that Till did those things. During the most recent investigation, Donham told the FBI that she had never recanted, the Justice Department said.
Tyson said that Donham’s statements in the memoir exonerating herself of wrongdoing should be taken with “a good-sized shovel full of salt,” in particular her claim that Till identified herself to the men who he was removed from the family home and later admitted to killing him.
“Two burly white men with guns came and dragged him from his aunt and great-uncle’s house at 2 a.m. in the Mississippi Delta in 1955. I don’t believe for one minute that he identified himself,” Tyson said. . .
Neither Donham nor any of his relatives have responded to messages and phone calls from the Associated Press seeking comment. It’s unclear where Donham currently lives or if he has an attorney. His last known address was in Raleigh, North Carolina.