Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black boy lynched after a Mississippi woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, claimed he made "advances" on her. His killers were acquitted of kidnapping and murder by an all-white, all-male jury. Then, free of further legal jeopardy, they admitted to it. Their casual indifference and impunity helped catalyze the civil rights movement.
Last week, we learned Donham admitted she lied.
In a new book, The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon & Schuster), Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar, reveals that Carolyn—in 2007, at age 72—confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony. "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. (Carolyn is now 82, and her current whereabouts have been kept secret by her family.)
The New York Times adds that "As a matter of narrow justice, it makes little difference; true or not, her claims did not justify any serious penalty, much less death."
… among thousands of lynchings of black people, this one looms large in the country's tortured racial history, taught in history classes to schoolchildren, and often cited as one of the catalysts for the civil rights movement.
Photographs in Jet Magazine of Emmett's gruesomely mutilated body — at a funeral that his mother insisted have an open coffin, to show the world what his killers had done — had a galvanizing effect on black America. … The Justice Department began an investigation into the Emmett Till lynching in 2004, Emmett's body was exhumed for an autopsy, and the F.B.I. rediscovered the long-missing trial transcript. But in 2007, a grand jury decided not to indict Ms. Donham, or anyone else, as an accomplice in the murder.
"I was hoping that one day she would admit it, so it matters to me that she did, and it gives me some satisfaction," said Wheeler Parker, 77, a cousin of Emmett's who lives near Chicago. "It's important to people understanding how the word of a white person against a black person was law, and a lot of black people lost their lives because of it. It really speaks to history, it shows what black people went through in those days."
If conscience is the fear of hell, at least she knows where she's going.