Her accusation provoked an act of violence so unspeakable, its barbarity has resonated, undiminished, through the years.
Unseen for close to two decades, Carolyn Bryant Donham has evaded curious eyes and, some would say, justice.
Now, a DailyMail.com investigation has led us to the woman whose claims led to the brutal lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955.
The case has been brought to the fore once again after an unserved warrant for Donham’s arrest almost 70 years ago was discovered by a team led by Till’s relatives early last month.
Seen in these exclusive pictures, Donham presents a stooped and frail figure to a world that has dwindled to the confines of the home she shares with her son, Thomas Bryant, 71, and her pet shih tzu.
Then, she was a 21-year-old mother-of-two, a so-called ‘crossroads Marilyn Monroe.’
Today, Donham is 88 years old and, DailyMail.com can reveal, living in a small apartment community in Kentucky.
Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman responsible for the lynching of 14-year-old black boy Emmett Till in 1955, has been pictured by DailyMail.com for the first time in almost two decades after she was spotted at her Kentucky home this week
Now 88, Donham is living in a small apartment community – whose exact location is being withheld by DailyMail.com – with her son Thomas, 71, and their pet shih tzu
The now elderly woman appeared frail and stooped as she emerged from her home wearing a nasal cannula looped over her ears and into her nose
DailyMail.com can reveal Donham now suffers from cancer, is legally blind, and is receiving end of life hospice care in her apartment
Donham (left) was 21 and then known as Carolyn Bryant, when she accused 14-year-old Emmett Till (right) of whistling at her and making verbal and physical advances during an encounter at her family store in Money, Mississippi on August 24, 1955. Her allegations prompted her then-husband and brother-in-law to abduct and kill Till in one of the most barbaric lynchings in US history
She suffers from cancer, is legally blind, and is receiving end of life hospice care in the small, shared apartment – the exact location of which DailyMail.com has chosen not to disclose. Tubes delivering oxygen loop over her ears and into her nose.
She has good days and bad. At times Donham appeared like a ghost, pale and peering out her front door with cloudy eyes, still dressed in her nightgown and robe in the late afternoon.
At others, she was visibly more engaged. Dressed in blue top and khaki slacks, she waited for a visit from her hospice nurse, greeting her at the door and waving her off with her little dog at her feet and the promise of seeing her ‘next week.’
When approached by DailyMail.com this week, her son answered the door. Donham stood only a couple of feet behind him.
Asked if either would speak about Till and the events that destroyed and re-shaped the worlds of so many, Bryant shook his head while Donham stood by silently.
Here she is just an anonymous old lady, living out her final days with her son in the apparent tranquility of a southern backwater town. She was last seen in 2004 when she was known to be living in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But to many, this woman is on a par with a Nazi war criminal and the decades have done nothing to dim the horror of what passed or the anger and grief that it spawned.
Nearly 70 years after Till’s brutal murder, Donham now lives life as an anonymous old lady, living out her final days in the apparent tranquility of a southern backwater town
Dressed in blue top and khaki slacks, she waited for a visit from her hospice nurse, greeting her at the door and waving her off with her little dog at her feet and the promise of seeing her ‘next week’
She has managed to go unnoticed over the past two decades, going on to live a long life – and now spending her final days in seclusion
Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, was visiting relatives near Money, Mississippi during the summer of 1955, when he entered a rural grocery store where Donham was working on August 24.
Donham, who is white, accused Till of whistling at her and grabbing her – a violation of the South’s racist societal codes at the time – prompting her then-husband Roy Bryant to brutally murder the boy in return.
Bryant, who died in 1994, was ultimately acquitted of murder. Donham, however, managed to evade charges or any consequences in a case that shocked the world for its brutality.
When approached by DailyMail.com, Donham’s son answered the door as she stood only a couple of feet behind him. She stood by silently as he shook his head when asked if he or his mother would speak about Till
Just three weeks ago, crowds of angry protesters descended on three addresses in Raleigh, North Carolina in which they mistakenly believed her to be living.
Chanting black power slogans, they gathered outside two residential addresses and even stormed a nursing facility, unaware that she left the town and the state some months earlier.
Their actions were spurred on by the discovery of an unserved warrant for Donham’s arrest.
It was found by a five-person search team led by Till’s cousin Deborah Watts and her daughter Terri along with members from the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.
They discovered the document inside a file folder that had been stored in a box in the basement of LeFlore County Circuit Court in Greenwood, Mississippi. Donham was identified only as ‘Mrs. Roy Bryant.’
Watts said that when they found the warrant, she and her daughter, ‘cried and hugged each other.’
‘Justice,’ she said, ‘Has to be done.’
Issued on August 29, 1955, the warrant was based on the Sheriff’s belief that Donham played a part in the kidnapping of Till, that she drove around the town of Money, Mississippi seeking him out and ultimately identified the terrified teen when he was brought to her on the night of Sunday August 28 that year, dragged from his bed, to be tortured and murdered by Donham’s husband Roy and half-brother, John Milam.
A police note on the back of the warrant says that she wasn’t arrested because she was not in the county.
Yet a local sheriff told reporters at the time that he didn’t want to ‘bother’ her since she had two little boys to care for.
Law enforcement have not said if they plan to ‘bother’ the woman who is now living out her final days in relative seclusion many miles away, but the smart money says it is unlikely despite the Till family’s calls for her arrest.
Instead, she lives out her days visited by caregivers, hospice nurses, and a chaplain whom DailyMail.com observed carrying a bible as he entered Donham’s home.
Early last month, an unserved arrest warrant for Donham – pictured on the lawn of her husband’s defense attorney’s office in 1955 – was found in the basement of a Mississippi courthouse, prompting Till’s family and activists to mobilize and call for justice
Donham, pictured with her two sons, Roy Jr and Thomas, and then-husband Roy Bryant in September 1955, had claimed Till, a whistled at her. In return, Bryant and his brother abducted him from his great-uncle’s home four days later and killed him
Roy Bryant (far right) and half-brother, J.W. Milam (far left) were charged with murder but were ultimately acquitted by an all-white jury. A triumphant Bryant is seen smoking a cigar as Carolyn embraces him after being cleared. Milam died of bone cancer at 61 in 1981 and Bryant died in 1994 also from cancer
Up until now, Donham (pictured left with her daughter Carol Ann) had not been seen in public since 2004 (right) when she was approached by CBS’s 60 Minutes in North Carolina. DailyMail.com’s exclusive photos show she has aged considerably since then
If forgiveness is on her mind, it is never something Donham has publicly sought when it comes to her part in the Till’s horrific death.
In fact, in her most recent version of the events leading up to Till’s death – and there have been many – Donham attempted to absolve herself of any guilt.
Instead, in a memoir dictated to her former daughter-in-law and recently leaked, Donham claims that she lied in a bid to save Till and casts herself as a victim not perpetrator of the scene.
In the leaked 99-page document, ‘I Am More Than A Wolf Whistle,’ obtained by the Associated Press she wrote: ‘I did not wish Emmett any harm and could not stop harm from coming to him, since I didn’t know what was planned for him.’
She claimed: ‘I have always prayed that God would bless Emmett’s family. I am truly sorry for the pain his family was caused.
‘I tried to protect him by telling Roy that, ‘He’s not the one. That’s not him. Please take him home.’
But bizarrely, she claimed that Till himself told the violent racists who had abducted him that he had indeed catcalled her, stepping up to take blame in a way that defied all common sense.
Emmett Till with his mother, Mamie Bradley in 1950. Till, who was from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi during the summer of 1955 when he was brutally murdered
Friends restrain grief-stricken Mrs. Mamie Bradley (left) as her son’s body is lowered into the grave after a four-day, open casket funeral on September 5, 1955
Bradley insisted on having an open coffin funeral to show her son’s tortured and mutilated body and expose the horror of his lynching and the persecution of African Americans in the US during the Jim Crow era
A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Aslip, Illinois. His murder in Money, Mississippi, helped spark the US civil rights movement
As it was, according to Donham’s early accounts, Emmett’s only ‘offense’ was to wolf whistle at a white woman when he entered the grocery store that she ran with her husband who was out of town that day.
Last week MGM studios debuted the first trailer for their biopic ‘Till’ which will center on the character of Mamie who will be played by Danielle Deadwyler of ‘The Harder They Fall,’ fame. Whoopi Goldberg will also star.
In 2004, just one year after Mrs. Till’s death, the Justice Department opened a cold case investigation into the killing to see if any more charges could be brought.
After three years of investigation, in 2007, then District Attorney Joyce Chiles of Greenwood empaneled a grand jury to hear the case against Donham and what amounted to extensive evidence, including thousands of pages of documents, some uncovered by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp.
The grand jury declined to bring any indictments.
Keith Beauchamp claimed to have found other suspects who were still alive and eyewitnesses who stated that Donham was in the truck when Till was abducted.
Speaking recently on the discovery of the Donham’s unserved arrest warrant, Beauchamp said that as far as he was concerned Donham is a woman, ‘who has been evading justice for over 66 years now.’
Just three weeks ago, crowds of angry protesters descended on three addresses in Raleigh, North Carolina in which they mistakenly believed Donham to be living, following the discovery of an unserved warrant for Donham’s arrest
Activists taped ‘eviction notices’ to the addresses listed under Donham’s public records
Video footage streamed live showed protesters knocking on doors calling out Carolyn Donham’s name as they continued their search. But unable to locate her, they left the building
Lead Counsel for the Black Lawyers for Justice, Malik Shabazz, and other activists stormed a senior living center in search of her on July 6
The only reason she was never served with that warrant, Beauchamp said, ‘was because of the protection of white womanhood.’
In 2017 the book, ‘The Blood of Emmett Till,’ written by historian Timothy B Tyson, and including quotes from Donham whom Tyson interviewed for the work, muddied the waters still further, casting doubt on Donham’s courtroom testimony.
In her interview with Tyson, the historian claimed, she recanted much of the account she had given under oath, sparking Till family hopes that a day of reckoning might finally have come for Donham.
The FBI investigated but Tyson could provide no recordings, transcript or even notes to back up this incendiary claim.
Unable to stand up the allegation in the face of the woman’s denials, investigators ultimately closed the case in 2021 leaving the surviving members of the Till family, ‘heartbroken’ but ‘not surprised.’
How Emmett Till’s horrific lynching helped spark the US civil rights movement and remains a rallying cry nearly 70 years after his brutal murder
Chicago teen Emmett Till was visiting relatives in the Deep South in the face of his mother Mamie Till’s misgivings. The child of sharecroppers, Mrs. Till had grown up in the Mississippi Delta before moving to Chicago.
She was uneasy when her uncle, Mose Wright, invited the boy to come and stay with him outside the tiny Delta town of Money in August 1955.
Emmett was self-confident and a prankster who was well built and looked far older than his 14 years. Mrs. Till worried that this would go against him in the Deep South.
During Bryant and Milam’s trial much was made of Till’s stature, and he was repeatedly and wrongly referred to as a ‘man’ despite his tender years.
Money had one main street on which stood the Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. On Wednesday August 24, Till and his cousins drove into Money to go to that store.
Till had supposedly boasted of his success at chatting up white girls in Chicago and one of his cousins said, as a challenge, there was a pretty one inside the store.
What happened next has been a source of contention for close to 70 years. Witnesses said that Till broke the Mississippi, Jim Crow-era custom that dictated black people should leave cash on the counter by placing it directly in Donham’s hand.
In court Donham testified that Till ‘grabbed’ her hand and said, ‘How about a date baby?’ She went further and said he put his hands on her waist and told her, ‘You needn’t be afraid of me baby. I been with white girls before.’
Emmett Till was visiting his great-uncle outside the tiny Delta town of Money, Mississippi in August 1955 at the time of his death
Till, left, and his cousin Wheeler Parker, back right, are pictured on their bicycles.
Donham never mentioned this physical contact in statements made before the trial prompting many to accuse her of inventing the details to aid her husband.
Four days later in the early hours of Sunday morning Till’s great-uncle Wright was woken by Bryant and Milman banging on his door. They were armed and demanding he take them to ‘the n***** who did the talking.’
She claimed that she was afraid, so afraid that she ran for a gun but Till had already left.
Till’s great-uncle, Wright, told the court that when the men frog marched the terrified teen from the house, they took him to their truck in which someone else was sitting. He recalled them asking the person if this was the boy and that they replied in a voice that was ‘lighter than a man’ that it was.
It has long been speculated that the voice of affirmation was Donham’s.
Till’s body was found three days later, by a boy out fishing in the Tallahatchie River. He had been weighted down by the 75lb-fan of a cotton gin, tied around his neck with barbed wire garrote.
His injuries were so gruesome, his suffering so great, that his great-uncle could only identify him by a ring that he was wearing.
In the aftermath of her son’s death Mrs. Till insisted that he have an open casket, so that the world could see just what men driven by violent racial hatred had done to her son.
Donham’s husband at the time Roy Bryant (pictured with one of the couple’s sons at his trial) and his brother JW Milam were tried for Till’s murder. It took the all-white male jury just 40 minutes to return a verdict of not guilty
Roy Bryant, (right) and half-brother, JW Milam, (left) were arrested for his lynching, but acquitted. The pair later admitted guilt, but couldn’t be prosecuted due to double-jeopardy laws
Emmett’s mother Mamie, who insisted on having an open casket funeral to expose the atrocities committed on her son, became an activist and spoke of her son as the ‘sacrificial lamb’ of the Civil Rights movement for which contributions soared in the aftermath of his death. She died in 2003 at the age of 81
She rejected the undertaker’s advice to have a closed casket or his offer to ‘touch up’ Till’s appearance saying, ‘Let the people see what I’ve seen. Everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till.’
In the end 50,000 people filed past his casket at a church in Chicago’s southside.
It took the all-white male jury just 40 minutes to return a verdict of not guilty in Bryant and Milam’s trial. The ‘victory’ was celebrated with gunshots around the courthouse and Donham and Bryant kissed passionately for the cameras.
Four months later Bryant and Milam gave an interview to ‘Look’ magazine in which they spoke of their guilt – safe in the knowledge that they could not be retried under the double-jeopardy rule. They were paid $4000 (roughly $36,000 by today’s standards).
Mrs. Till, who died in 2003, became an activist and spoke of her son as the ‘sacrificial lamb’ of the Civil Rights movement for which contributions soared in the aftermath of his death.
This content was originally published here.