On Thursday, Jan. 26, news broke that Carolyn Bryant, the white woman who accused black 14-year-old Emmett Till of whistling at her in 1955, confessed in 2007 that she lied. Because she revealed the truth too late, Emmett Till died after being beaten, shot and sunk in the Tallahatchie River.
I think we all knew – at least the black kids in class knew – the moment we learned about Till’s tragic death that this woman lied. I do not remember learning Bryant’s name, and I suppose her name did not matter. The fact that she was a white woman in 1955 with a racist husband, Roy Bryant, whose half- brother, J.W. Milam, hastily hunted for this black boy was enough to make me suspicious.
In 1955 white people actually took “crying wolf ” seriously. Black people – no matter their age – were the wolves continuously being hunted. The white hunters required no proof of “wolf sightings or attacks.” Simply claiming that you saw one was enough for the community hunters to deliver a death sentence not only for the community’s recognition but also to serve as a warning for other wolves near the area.
Because Till’s mother chose to show the mutilation of her son at his funeral, Jet, an African-American magazine, published the story and gave the Till family national attention, which led to the trial.
Carolyn Bryant took an oath on the stand and told the same story to the jury that she had told to her husband – despite emotional testimonies from eyewitnesses who had seen Roy Bryant and Milam kidnap Till and claim that they had received death threats.
The all-white jury discussed Milam and Bryant’s verdict for only one hour and declared the men not guilty of Till’s murder due to the state failing in proving that the body belonged to Till. A juror said, “We wouldn’t have taken so long if we hadn’t stopped to drink pop.”
Till became one of the motivations for the Civil Rights Movement. Myrlie Evers, Medgar Evars wife, explained in a 1985 interview why Till sparked national attention. She said,”[his death] shook the foundations of Mississippi— both black and white, because . . . with the white community . . . it had become nationally publicized . . . with us as blacks . . . it said, even a child was not safe from racism and bigotry and death.”
I wonder if Carolyn Bryant felt remorse during or immediately after the trial. I wonder because she chose to confess her lies decades years later to a stranger, Timothy Tyson. Tyson is the author of new book The Blood of Emmett Till and senior research scholar at Duke University.
According to Tyson, Bryant approached him and offered to be interviewed. According to Tyson, she had clearly changed her views on white supremacy and said, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”
I wonder how it felt for Bryant to admit a lie that cost a black boy his life – presumably in the comfort of her own home. I wonder how it felt to get away with perjury and go into hiding.
Some believe that she should be arrested, and I see why: so that justice will be served and Bryant will serve her time in jail for the rest of her life.
I am conflicted on where I stand on the issue.
To show disapproval of the past, corrupt Mississippi court system and assure Mississippians that government officials work to benefit all Mississippians would possibly be significant to black Americans. But I cannot tell you how trusting they would be of his words.
Personally, it would not make me feel better if she served her time in jail. Her rotting away in jail will not change the fact that she caused Till’s death, and even if she was arrested, my celebration would be short-lived.
I am frankly more concerned about present issues than I am with a case that occurred decades ago. For now, I think we can let this one old, white lady slide as we deal with present injustices and attempt to take our country back from President Donald Trump and his team of white supremacists.
Editor’s note: A statement that Gov. Phil Bryant is a relative of Carolyn Bryant was redacted from the article. Gov. Bryant is not a relative of Carolyn Bryant and there is no evidence of this. The Student Printz regrets the error in publishing information that is false.
According to a spokesperson with the Governor’s office, Gov. Bryant is of no relation to Roy or Carolyn Bryant.
This article was last edited at 3:04 p.m. by Cam Bonelli, Executive Editor.