It was a story that shook the nation 62 years ago – and helped catapult us into the civil rights movement that changed America forever.
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago died a horrific death at the hands of two white men after buying bubble gum while visiting racially segregated Mississippi in 1955.
They beat, shot and disfigured his body beyond recognition – and walked free, acquitted at the hands of an all-white, all-male jury.
Emmett’s crime was allegedly whistling at a white woman. The woman, Carolyn Bryant, has lived in relative hiding for the last five decades, haunted by her past. She has now admitted that her testimony, which carried the case, was a blatant lie.
A new book, The Blood of Emmett Till to be published next week, reveals an interview with Carolyn, who accused Emmett of grabbing and verbally abusing her, according to Vanity Fair.
Carolyn Bryant, then 21, was the wife of one of the men who was arrested for Emmett’s murder, Roy Bryant. She was working at a store when Emmett came in to buy two cents of bubble gum on the hot August day.
In her evocative testimony she told the court that she couldn’t bring herself to say the ‘unprintable’ word he’d said to her – only that he told her he’d done ‘something’ with white women before.
She added: ‘I was just scared to death.’
It took the jury less than an hour to acquit Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam of the crime, which they admitted to law enforcement.
At the time, Mississippi had very few white on black crime convictions, and led the nation in lynchings.
Several months later, the men admitted killing Emmett in an interview with Look Magazine, safe in the knowledge they were protected by double jeopardy laws and were paid $3,000 for sharing their story.
Timothy Tyson, the author of The Blood of Emmett Till, spoke with Carolyn in 2007, who has since divorced and married twice more, and is a mother of two children. She is now 82 years old.
During their interview in 2007, Tyson said it was evident that the times had changed her, though not in a radical sense.
Regarding her statement that Emmett grabbed and verbally abused her, she simply said, ‘that part’s not true,’ according to Tyson.
She claims she doesn’t remember anything else about the evening.
He said: ‘She was glad things had changed [and she] thought the old system of white supremacy was wrong, though she had more or less taken it as normal at the time.’
Carolyn told him nothing Emmett could have done would have justified his death, and that she feels ‘tender sorrow’ for his mother, known as Mamie Till-Mobley, who campaigned for civil rights for her entire life until she died in 2003.
After Emmett’s death, she insisted that his funeral be an open casket, so that the world could see what had been done to him as a result of racism.
The image of his inflated, contorted face made the cover of Jet Magazine, and ignited and mobilized the public to rally for equal rights.
Carolyn said that losing her own son helped her to understand and sympathize with the grief Emmett’s mother felt.