Key Till Witness Gave False Testimony, Historian Says

NEW YORK (AP) — The woman at the center of the trial of Emmett Till’s alleged killers has acknowledged that she falsely testified he made physical and verbal threats, according to a new book.

Historian Timothy B. Tyson told The Associated Press on Saturday that Carolyn Donham broke her long public silence in an interview with him in 2008. His book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” comes out next week.

“She told me that ‘Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,’” said Tyson, a Duke University research scholar whose previous books include “Blood Done Sign My Name” and “Radio Free Dixie.”

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black tortured and killed in 1955 in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman, then known as Carolyn Bryant.

His murder became national news, was a galvanizing event in the civil rights movement and has been the subject of numerous books and movies. During the trial, Bryant said that he had grabbed her, and, in profane terms, bragged about his history with white woman. The jury was not present when she testified.

Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were acquitted by the all-white jury. Both men, who later told Look magazine they did murder Till, have since died. Milam’s widow, Juanita Milam, would later tell the FBI she believed that Carolyn Bryant had fabricated her story. Juanita Milam died in 2014. The Justice Department re-examined the case a decade ago, but no one was indicted as a murderer or an accomplice.

On Saturday, the maker of a documentary on Till said he had long been sure that Bryant’s story was false.

“His mother had mentioned that Emmett had a speech impediment and that the things Bryant claimed he was saying he could not have said easily,” said Keith Beauchamp, whose “The Untold Story of Emmett Till” came out in 2005.

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