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Carolyn Bryant Donham (photo by Bettman).
Carolyn Bryant Donham (photo by Bettman).
Carolyn Bryant Donham (photo by Bettman).

Carolyn Bryant Donham, Woman At the Center of Emmett Till Saga, Has Died

Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who reportedly accused Emmett Till of making advances on her in 1955, has died.

Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman whose reported accusations led to the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till in August 1955, has died. Megan LeBoeuf, chief investigator for the Calcasieu Parish coroner’s office, confirmed Donham’s death, per Mississippi’s WAPT. Donham, 88, was receiving end-of-life hospice care after a long battle with cancer.

Devery Anderson, author of Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement and who once recorded Donham’s admission of lying about Till’s alleged sexual advances, says Donham’s death ends the pursuit of justice.

Anderson shared in a statement that people “have been clinging to hope that she could be prosecuted. She was the last remaining person who had any involvement. Now that can’t happen.”

Anderson added that for many, “it’s going to be a wound, because justice was never done. Some others were clinging to hope she might still talk or tell the truth… Now it’s over.”

Till had newly turned 14 when he left Chicago to visit his Mississippi relatives in August 1955. The teenager was gruesomely bludgeoned and shot to death by a mob of white people after he was accused of whistling at Donham at a store in Money.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, would opt to show her son’s disfigured appearance in an open-casket funeral, to “let the world see what they did to my boy.” The horrific image would appear in Jet and other publications.

An all-white jury would acquit Donham’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam of Till’s murder, although they would later confess to torturing and killing Till. Donham would go on to maintain her innocence in her unpublished memoirI Am More Than a Wolf Whistle, but protesters have long called for her prosecution, which had repeatedly been denied during her lifetime.

Donham was portrayed by actress Haley Bennett in the 2022 biographical drama Till.