The murder of Emmett Till is one of the most brutal and horrific examples of what racism in America really looks like. In 1955, 14-year-old Chicago-native Till, who was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, was murdered in an appallingly barbaric manner by Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law J.W. Milam, after being accused by Bryant’s wife Carolyn of grabbing her and making lewd comments at her.
Till's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, chose to display her son's shockingly disfigured corpse to the world. The photo of Till's mutilated face became one of the most infamous symbols of white supremacist terror in American history.
And now, according to a new book, we know that the central thing that led Till to be murdered may never have happened.
Yesterday, Vanity Fair wrote that a new book by Timothy Tyson called The Blood of Emmett Till reports that Carolyn Bryant lied about that altercation in the store. Despite testifying on the stand that Till—who was constantly referred to as “a man” rather than the 14-year-old boy that he was—had grabbed her, and told her something that was “unprintable” but ended in “…with white women before,” she made it all up.
Tyson's source? None other than Bryant herself. Via Vanity Fair:
“That part’s not true,” she told Tyson, about her claim that Till had made verbal and physical advances on her. As for the rest of what happened that evening in the country store, she said she couldn’t remember.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” She also admitted she “felt tender sorrow,” Tyson would note, “for Mamie Till-Mobley”—Emmett Till’s mother, who died in 2003 after a lifetime spent crusading for civil rights.
This is absolutely appalling. It doesn’t matter how sorry Bryant is or how tender that sorrow is. She lied and a child was murdered for it. She lied again and his murderers saw no justice. Her husband Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam had beaten Till and disfigured his body so badly, Till’s body could only be identified by a ring he was wearing. Carolyn Bryant may not have been holding the gun, but she is responsible for one of the most notorious—though far from the last—instances of sheer racist brutality ever in the United States.