Carolyn Bryant Donham - whose accusation led to lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till - dies of cancer aged 88
Emmett Till was just 14-years-old when he died, after being lynched following an accusation from Carolyn Bryant Donham that the teen made ‘improper advances’ on her
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Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusation led to the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till has died of cancer aged 88 in a hospice in Louisiana on Tuesday (April 25). She was at the centre of one of the most notorious episodes in US racial history.
Donham, who was 21-years-old at the time, claimed that in August 1955, Till, who was in the area visiting relatives, made ‘improper advances’ against her at the store she worked at in the small community of Money in Mississippi.
Reverend Wheeler Parker, one Mr Till’s cousins, said the boy whistled at Donham, an act that was contrary to the racist social codes of the era in the Deep South at the time.
Mr Till was then identified to Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam. They abducted Till a few nights after the alleged incident, before beating and mutilating him.
The pair then shot him in the head, before leaving his body in the Tallahatchie river. It was discovered three days later, and returned to his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, almost 1000 miles away in Chicago.
The 14-year-olds funeral attracted international attention when his mother wished for him to be buried in an open casket, saying: "There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see."
Subsequent pictures of the body sent shockwaves through America, with pressure put on the state of Mississippi to bring Mr Till’s murderers to justice. Despite being arrested and tried for the killing, an all-white jury acquitted the two white men.
Historian Timothy Tyson said he obtained a copy of an unpublished memoir titled I am More Than A Wolf Whistle, from Ms Donham while interviewing her in 2008, before passing it on to the Associated Press.
"It has comforted America to see this as merely a story of monsters, her among them," Tyson said. "What this narrative keeps us from seeing is the monstrous social order that cared nothing for the life of Emmett Till nor thousands more like him.
"Neither the federal government nor the government of Mississippi did anything to prevent or punish this murder. Condemning what Donham did is easier than confronting what America was - and is."