Carolyn Bryant Donham, woman whose accusations led to Emmett Till’s murder, dies at 88


Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who accused Black teenager Emmett Till of making improper advances before he was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, has died in hospice care in Louisiana at age 88. Donham died Tuesday night in Westlake, Louisiana, according to a death report filed Thursday in the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office in Louisiana.

In August 1955, Till traveled from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi.  Bryant Donham (then named Carolyn Bryant) accused Till of making improper advances on her at a grocery store in the small community of Money; she was 21-years-old at the time. The Rev. Wheeler Parker, a cousin of Till who was there, has said 14-year-old Till whistled at the woman, an act that flew in the face of Mississippi’s racist social codes of the era.

Evidence indicates a woman identified Till to her then-husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam. Till was later abducted from his great-uncle Moses Wright’s home by Bryant and Milam. Till’s remains were found days later in the Tallahatchie River.  Roy Bryant and Milam were charged with Till’s murder; however, the two men were acquitted by an all-white jury. They later confessed to the killing in a paid magazine interview. Till’s kidnapping and killing became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement when his mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in their hometown of Chicago after his brutalized body was pulled from a river in Mississippi.

Till’s cousin filed a federal lawsuit against the current Leflore County, Mississippi, sheriff a few months ago, seeking to compel him to serve an arrest warrant on kidnapping charges that was issued for Donham in 1955 but never served. A team searching a Mississippi courthouse basement for evidence about the lynching found the warrant in June 2022, which prompted calls from Till’s relatives for authorities to arrest Donham. However, a grand jury in Leflore County declined to indict her on charges of manslaughter and kidnapping last August.

Editorial credit: Karen Mellott-Foshier /