The Department of Justice has closed the investigation into Emmett Till’s murder 66 years after Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, bludgeoned and shot the 14-year-old black boy. Emmett had traveled to the racist south when Carolyn alleged that he’d whistled at her, threatened her, and touched her.
Emmett likely whistled, but it is improbable that he threatened and touched Carolyn. Nevertheless, Carolyn testified that Till grabbed and threatened her. “I was just scared to death,” she said. The jury didn’t hear her testimony, but it came as no surprise when the all-male, all-white jury found the defendants ‘not guilty.’
Carolyn Bryant adopted a secretive life after recanting her testimony
The Justice Department’s renewed focus on Emmett’s murder emanated from author Timothy Tyson’s assertion that Carolyn Bryant recanted her testimony.
After making the accusation that led to Till’s murder, Carolyn stepped away from the spotlight. She later divorced Roy and remarried twice. She declined requests for interviews until she approached Timothy Tyson for help with a memoir.
“That part’s not true,” she told Tyson of her claim that Emmett touched and threatened her. Bryant added that she couldn’t remember what happened that day.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Carolyn said. Bryant admitted that she felt sorrow for Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, having experienced the pain of losing a son.
“When Carolyn herself [later] lost one of her sons, she thought about the grief that Mamie must have felt and grieved all the more,” Tyson writes.
When approached by the FBI, Carolyn denied lying about her testimony, NBC News reports. She claimed that Tyson made inconsistent statements in his book. Tyson told the outlet that he stands by his assertions in The Blood of Emmett Till.
“Carolyn Bryant denies it and avoids talking about it like it was the plague,” Tyson said. “I am standing in the public square telling the truth as I see it based on solid evidence. Let us just look at the evidence as if I had never talked to Carolyn. That she lied in court does not depend on her admission of it to me, not at all.”
In his book, Tyson claimed that Emmett’s case ruined Bryant’s life. Carolyn’s refusal to appear in public or grant interviews suggests that she truly is haunted by the case.
When ABC11 turned up at Bryant’s house looking for a comment, an unidentified woman waved them away, saying, “no comment.” We might still get Carolyn’s honest account of the case when a manuscript from her memoir becomes available for public viewing in 2036.
Till’s family is disappointed by the verdict but agrees that it’s time to move on
Emmett Till’s cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker, has been linked to Emmett’s case for decades. He was in the house when Roy Bryant and Milam picked Till up to murder him. Parker told ABC News:
“I’m waiting to be shot, and I close my eyes. I wasn’t shot, I opened my eyes and they’re passing me. The guy said we’re looking for fat boy, the fat boy from Chicago. They left with him, and that’s the last time we saw him alive.”
“For 66 years we have suffered pain for his loss, and I suffered tremendously because of the way that they painted him,” Parker said following the DOJ’s decision.
Till’s tragic death and his mother’s insistence on an open casket ignited the civil rights movement that would help battle racial discrimination. “I think [there] might have been a different outcome, a different verdict, because the world has moved forward,” said Ollie Gordon, Emmett’s cousin.
Per Tyson’s book, Carolyn celebrates the strides made by the racial equality movement. “She was glad things had changed [and she] thought the old system of white supremacy was wrong, though she had more or less taken it as normal at the time,” Tyson’s book reads.
However, Carolyn’s refusal to offer the truth discredits her appreciation for the civil rights movement. “She must have a hard time living with that terrible legacy over her head,” Dr. Blair LM Kelley, a historian, told ABC11. “And it is telling that she does not want to see justice done even today.”