*The family of Emmett Till says it was a “godsend” to hear that the white woman who accused him of groping her more than 60 years ago – before the black 14-year-old was abducted and brutally murdered by two white men – has finally admitted that she lied about that part of her story.
“Now he’s put in another light. That means a lot to me,” Wheeler Parker, Till’s cousin, tells People magazine of the news. “That’s a godsend to me for her to say that.”
Parker says the family “knew all the time” her allegations were false. “That’s what got [Till] killed: her lie. Her lie is what got him killed.”
Till’s brutal beating death in Mississippi in 1955, the acquittal of his professed killers by an all-white jury and the photos of his bloated, mutilated body sparked national outrage and set in motion the national civil rights movement.
Till was killed during a visit from Chicago after Carolyn Bryant Donham, then named Carolyn Bryant, accused him of grabbing her by the hand and waist, and whistling at her flirtatiously at her shop. Till was kidnapped days later, beaten and mutilated, before being shot, by Donham’s shop-owner husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam.
The jury deliberated for only an hour before Bryant and Milam were acquitted in September 1955.
Donham testified at the trial and, according to Vanity Fair, her allegations were entered into the record and shared with reporters by her attorneys — but they were not heard by the jury, which had been excused from the courtroom.
Donham stayed out of the public eye for decades, but agreed to an interview with Timothy B. Tyson 10 years ago for his book The Blood of Emmett Till.
As previously reported, Donham’s 2007 interview, when she was 72, is published for the first time in Tyson’s book, which was released earlier this year. Of her accusation that Till had physically and verbally harassed her at the store, she said, according to Vanity Fair: “That part’s not true.”
Parker, who was with his cousin Till at the store that day in 1955, says that Till did whistle at her after he left the store — apparently not realizing the potential ramifications in the south.
For decades, Parker says, he has dealt with the pain of people assuming Till had somehow deserved his death. But Donham’s interview “clears his name.”
“It’s a great relief to me to hear that she’s saying he [did] nothing to deserve [his] death,” Parker says, referring to another part of Donham’s interview with Tyson.
Parker says he harbors no animosity toward Donham. “I refuse to let anger destroy me,” she said. A pastor of 24 years, he believes Donham’s comments may be a way to “make peace with God.”