The Relentless Persecution of Carolyn Bryant
This is a three-part series due to email requirements:
A few weeks ago a “woke” academic named Timothy Tyson unscrupulously “released” the unpublished memoir of now 88-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the then 21-year-old 5’2”, 103-pound white storekeeper at the center of the incident that led to the beating and shooting of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy in Money, Mississippi in 1955 and the acquittal of his killers at trial a little over a month later. The death of the teenager has been a major focal point of civil rights leaders and black activists ever since. Most blame Mrs. Bryant for what happened, mainly because she’s the only one still alive. Numerous attempts have been made to have her indicted, well, for something! None have succeeded. Although the memoir has not been released to the public – members of the media have read it and “’splain’ed” it to the rest of us without letting us read it and decide for ourselves – excerpts reveal that Mrs. Bryant, now Mrs. Donham, never recanted her account of what happened as Tyson claimed in a 2017 book he wrote about Till. He obtained the memoir from Mrs. Donham in 2008 when he interviewed her for his book about Till and submitted it to the University of North Carolina archives after promising that it would not be released to the public until 2036. Tyson reneged on his word after “researchers,” actually members of Till’s family, recently came across a 67-year-old warrant against Mrs. Bryant in a box in a Mississippi courthouse basement.
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Activists claim the document is justification for arresting the elderly woman on the basis that Mississippi has no statute of limitations for kidnapping. Tyson claims the memoir is “evidence” and decided to hand copies to the media. However, it’s not new – he gave a copy to the FBI more than a decade ago. At some point, Tyson went to the FBI and claimed that Mrs. Donham had recanted. They opened a new investigation. However, the FBI determined that there was no way to prove his claim. FBI agents interviewed Mrs. Donham and she denied that she had ever recanted and added no new information. Furthermore, the FBI found holes in Tyson’s explanation of his claims. The investigation was closed. The FBI also determined that even if Mrs. Donham lied in the testimony she had given more than a half century before – the judge refused to allow her to testify before the jury – they didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute and neither did the state of Mississippi since the statute of limitations on perjury had expired in 1960. They had no basis to open a hate crime investigation because the murder had occurred long before such legislation became law.
The recent investigation was the second attempt to have Mrs. Donham indicted. The first was in 2004 after the death of Emmett Till’s mother and publication of her memoir when family members convinced the FBI to open an investigation on the basis that others had been involved in the abduction and murder of Till besides the two men who were tried and acquitted – then later admitted the killing in interviews with Alabama investigative reporter William Bradford Huie. The FBI report is available on the FBI web site. I have read the report. There’s little evidence in it, if any. Most of it is nothing but hearsay. Some is interviews of people (2) who were present outside the store. One was Simeon Wright, who evidently was one of those who went to Mississippi to press to have the case reopened, the other was a female cousin who was present at the store. Wright, who was 12 at the time, claimed he was the one who went in the store and got Till. He claims Till was only in the store alone with Mrs. Bryant for “less than a minute” but offers no proof of how he made this determination. However, the accounts they gave differ substantially from what investigative reporter William Bradford Huie was told in Chicago a few months after the incident.
In the late summer of 1955, the black community was shocked at the news that a young Chicagoan named Emmett Till had been brutally murdered in Mississippi. News of the boy’s death was picked up by black newspapers and magazines and photographs were published of his battered body. Blacks in Chicago were incensed. They became even more incensed when the two men arrested for his kidnapping and murder, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, Bryant’s half-brother, were acquitted by an all-white jury at their trial in Sumner, Mississippi the following month. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) made the murdered teenager a poster boy for their civil rights campaign and newspapers ran countless editorials decrying the verdict. Over the past sixty-seven years, black activists, journalists, film makers, Till’s relatives and “historians” have done their best, with great success, to revise the story to suit their own purposes.
The NAACP was hated by many whites, especially in the Mid-South. The organization was founded in 1909 by a consortium of progressive whites, many of them professed socialists, and blacks. Included among the founders were W.E.B. Dubois, a black socialist who eventually left the United States and joined the Communist Party, and Ida B. Wells. Ida Wells was born in 1862 in Holly Springs, a town in north Mississippi just south of Memphis, Tennessee. After the Civil War, her father became a member of the Loyal League, a black vigilante group founded by free blacks who came South after the Civil War, who harassed their white neighbors, particularly former Confederates. Although a child, Wells was active in the League, which was largely responsible for the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. She lost her parents to yellow fever as a teenager and moved to Memphis where she continued her radical antiracial activities. She became a newspaper publisher, publishing articles designed to inflame racial hatred. She frequently wrote about lynching after three black men that she knew were hung. They were lynched after a mob broke them out of the Memphis jail. However, the piece that led to Wells being run out of Memphis was one she wrote in which she essentially said that white women craved sex with black men. She had conveniently left town and gone to New York “on vacation” before the piece ran. A few days after it came out, the newspaper office was burned to the ground. Wells never went back. She remained in the North and continued her campaign against lynching. The NAACP gained little support in the South until a black woodcutter named Elle Persons (or Parsons) was burned to death in 1917 by an angry mob after he was arrested for the brutal murder of a young white teenager named Antionette Rappel. The pretty fifteen-year-old high school student left home for school one morning and never came home. Her body was later found in a woods a half mile from Persons’ home. Her head had been cut off with an ax and there was evidence she had been raped. Persons confessed to the murder but many, blacks in particular, believed the confession was coerced. After Persons was taken off a train and burned to death in front of a large crowd, the NAACP was finally successful in forming a chapter in Memphis. NAACP chapters soon sprang up throughout the South, including Mississippi.
Emmett Louis “Bobo” Till was a fourteen-year-old Negro from Chicago whose relatives had gone “straight north” from Mississippi. In the summer of 1955 he was invited by his great-uncle (by marriage), Moses, or Mose, “Preacher” Wright to spend time in Mississippi, where his mother had been born, to see what it was like. Although articles about Till focus on his youth, most leave out that he was big for his age. Wright testified that the stocky five foot, five inch teenager “looked like a man.” In her memoir, Carolyn Bryant Donham says she thought he was in his late teens or early twenties when he came in her store. Although apologists, including his mother, claim he wasn’t a smart-aleck, he was described as one by some. She even hinted at it in her description of what she told him before he left on the trip. At the time of his death, he was living in the South Side of Chicago in a predominantly or all-black neighborhood. He and his mother lived on the second floor of a two-family home owned by his grandmother. In South Side, he was part of a culture characterized by fast-talking and violence. He had not lived in South Side all his life, though. His mother was from Argo, a predominately white community just west of Chicago, and Emmett lived there off and on for much of his childhood. He had polio as a child and had a stutter as a result. Preacher Wright testified that he was difficult to understand. However, Carolyn Bryant testified that he spoke clearly. Wright also allegedly told his abductors that the boy “don’t have good sense. He didn’t know what he was doing.”
Young Emmett did not spend all of his time in South Side, however. He had family and friends in Argo, where his mother grew up, a community that had become part of the village of Summit. Named for the Argo mill, it is a multi-racial community – the 2000 census showed the population to be 61% white and only 12.5% black, with a number of the people of Polish, German and Irish ancestry. His grandparents had settled there when they came up from Mississippi in the 1920s. Other family members had settled there as well. Moses Wright would settle there when he left Mississippi after the trial of Emmett Till’s accused murders. His mother related in her memoir that from age ten, Emmett road the streetcar to Argo to visit his relatives and friends.
His mother, Mamie Carthan Till-Mobley, claimed later that she warned the boy about his mouth before he left on the trip, advising him that he should be respectful to whites to avoid violence. She told him that Mississippi was not Chicago. She told him to say, “yes sir” and “no sir” and not to smart off. He said he would. He took a train to Mississippi with his great-uncle. Another cousin came down later. When he got to Mississippi, he didn’t take his mother’s advice. Instead of addressing whites with “yes sir” and “no sir” he said “yeah” and “nah.” He regaled his Mississippi cousins and their neighbors with stories about Chicago, allegedly including how he had sex with white girls, a taboo subject in Mississippi. On August 24, he was involved in the incident that led to his murder. Exactly what happened that Wednesday evening is disputed. The accounts given at the time have been challenged by an army of black “historian”/activists and white leftists along with Till’s family, all eager to absolve Till of any blame for what happened. According to contemporary accounts, Carolyn Bryant’s testimony and her memoir, Till made sexual advances toward the 21-year-old white owner of a store in Money.
Carolyn Holloway Bryant was a young married women with two children. She had grown up in Indianola, Mississippi, a town just west of Greenwood. An attractive young woman (she had participated in local beauty contests) of five foot two inches height and weighing 103 pounds, she dropped out of high school at age 17 to marry 20-year-old soldier Roy Bryant whom she had known and been dating since age 14. Roy served in the Army with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina during the first years of their marriage. He came home in 1953 and took over the store in Money and operated it with his wife. He also drove a truck for one of his brothers. They lived in two rooms in the back of the store with their two small children. Carolyn did not stay overnight at the store when Roy was away, she stayed with relatives. They considered it unsafe for her to be there alone at night. The area teemed with blacks. Some were from sharecropping families, some were employees of local farmers or businessmen like Roy Bryant’s family. The five older children were Milams and the six younger were Bryants. Eight of the siblings were boys and three, Bryants, were girls. Male family members made a living running stores, operating trucks and renting agricultural equipment, particularly cotton pickers, to local farmers. They provided the cotton pickers with black drivers.
Money is a small crossroads community, like so many in rural America, on the eastern side of the rich Mississippi Delta land on the Tallahatchie a few miles north of Greenwood. In 1955 Money consisted of a post office, a filling station, three stores – one of which belonged to the Bryants – a cotton gin and a school. To the east the state becomes hilly and is populated more by small farmers while the Delta is home to the large cotton plantations for which Mississippi is famous. The region once belonged to the Choctaw. They sold their land to the United States in 1831 after the Treaty of Dancing Creek and settlers moved in and established cotton plantations using slave labor. After the Civil War and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, the slaves who had worked on the plantations remained as farm hands. Some became sharecroppers.
In the 1950s the Mississippi Delta looked like a Third World nation. I grew up in rural West Tennessee about 100 miles northeast of Memphis, which sits in the corner of the state just north of Mississippi. Money is about the same distance south of Memphis. My homeland was rolling hills, river bottoms and woods. We raised cotton as did other farmers – we picked it ourselves – but we only had a few acres. We also raised corn and livestock. The big cotton plantations were west of us in the flat lands east of the Mississippi. Although the West Tennessee bottomlands are technically not part of the Mississippi Delta as it is defined, the land and culture are the same. We had blacks around – they were called “colored people” – but not in large numbers. Most blacks lived in town. I don’t recall there being many black sharecroppers – most sharecroppers in the area were white. Rather, local blacks either worked for the farmers in the region, as domestics working for some of the wealthier families – mostly in town – or had jobs. About once a year my family would drive some 100 miles to Memphis for an outing which usually included a visit to the Memphis Zoo. What struck me was that once we entered the flat Mississippi bottom region between where we lived and Memphis, we started seeing large numbers of what most would call shacks, all occupied by black families. Sometime in the 50s, probably around 1958, my family took a trip to Leesville, Louisiana to visit my aunt and uncle who was in the Army stationed at Fort Polk. Once we got south of Memphis, we were in a different world. We passed mile after mile of ramshackle shotgun houses with black families sitting on the porch or standing around in the yard. It was in the spring and there was no cotton to hoe or pick. Huge cotton fields surrounded the houses. It was like that all the way to Greenville, Mississippi where we crossed the Mississippi River into southeast Arkansas and continued like that as we went south into Louisiana and across the state to Leesville.
I graduated from high school in 1963 and enlisted in the Air Force some two months later. The Army and Air Force induction center was at the VA hospital in Memphis. There were five of us, all white, who had been sent there by our recruiters and a large group of colored boys who had enlisted in the Army or been sent there by their draft boards. Most, if not all, were from Mississippi. We all went through the mandatory enlistment physical and took a battery of tests. One of the Army medics who took us through the process told us that they’d have to send nearly all the blacks home. Either they couldn’t pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test or they had diseases such as syphilis and TB that barred them from military service. He said it was the same every week. (Two years later the Johnson Administration ordered the military to start accepting men with substandard scores. They called it Project 100,000 – it was a disaster.) Such were the kinds of young blacks often found in the Mississippi Delta. It was not the kind of place where a white woman should be alone, especially after dark.
Mississippians and other Southerners were well aware that there were different classes of blacks, an awareness dating back to slavery when slaves performed various functions. Some were “house Negroes” who worked in the plantation houses as servants, some were craftsman who worked as carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, seamstresses and the like and some were “field Negroes” who were only capable of menial tasks, namely plowing, hoeing cotton in the spring and picking it in the fall. During slavery, slaves in the upper categories looked down on the field hands. They also looked down on the “white trash” who lived nearby and were barely getting by. After slavery ended, blacks in the craftsman classes moved into towns where they continued their craft. A few became educated. The field hands mostly remained on the plantations. There were also classes of whites: the well-educated professionals such as doctors, lawyers, bankers and teachers; the farmers and businessmen who were successful but not well-educated; then the “white trash” – landless whites with no prospects. The so-called “white trash,” also sometimes called rednecks or peckerwoods, were often descendants of children and young adults who were brought to the English colonies as indentured servants then at the end of their indenture were released with the equivalent of fifty dollars and no prospects. They became hired hands and sharecroppers and were in competition with blacks.
A word about sharecropping. Although black activists try to claim it was unique to the American South, it had actually been around for centuries and was common in the Midwest and West as well as Europe. Not all sharecroppers were black. Many were white. Sharecropping was basically farming in which a wealthier individual or family provides the land, equipment, seed and fertilizer and the sharecropper provides the labor. The landowner provided the sharecropper’s family a house in which to live as well as land on which they could grow a garden and raise livestock. They even provided mules or horses and plows, then later a tractor and equipment to till the land they were sharecropping. On large plantations, the landowners often provided supplies through a store they owned. They sold groceries, farm supplies and other commodities to the sharecroppers on credit. They even provided medical care. Their debt was taken out of the sharecropper’s share of the crop. The Bryants’ store was not a “company store,” they were merchants who sold to their mostly black customers on credit, as was common throughout the South and Midwest. They operated on credit themselves. They mainly sold groceries and meats but also had a candy counter. The main counter with the cash register was at the back. Although various articles and books about the store don’t say so, they probably made sandwiches, usually bologna, for their customers – the stores I am familiar with did. Roy Bryant had set up checker boards in front of the store where blacks congregated. He sometimes played checkers himself and let the young Negroes buy cold drinks on credit.
Emmett Till’s mother Mamie was evidently intelligent and capable. Although she was born in Mississippi, her family moved to Illinois when she was two as part of the “Great Migration” when millions of blacks moved out of the South. (Although blacks claim so many left the South due to the threat of lynching and lack of economic opportunity, it was more the latter than the former. Not only did blacks leave the South, so did millions of whites, far more than blacks.) She was an honors student at a predominantly white school in Argo, Illinois and only the fourth black student to actually graduate from it. Emmett’s father, Louis Till, however, was either not intelligent or he had something about him that made him violent. There is no information about Louis Till’s background other than that he was allegedly an orphan in New Madrid, Missouri, a Mississippi River town south of St. Louis. How and when he made his way to the Chicago area isn’t recorded. Mamie met Louis when he was seventeen and employed at a corn mill in Argo, Illinois where her father had worked prior to her parents’ divorce and his move to Detroit. She said he had just come up from Missouri but offers no details. She claimed that her parents didn’t approve of Till and she broke off the relationship, but he persisted. They were married in 1940; both were age eighteen. Emmett was born within a year. The marriage didn’t last long. Louis became violent. One night he pounced on her she continued to eat some greens her mother had sent over after he told her not to – Louis did not like his mother-in-law. He got her on the floor and choked her to the point she almost passed out. She retaliated by dousing him with hot water when he came in later that night. She got a restraining order which he repeatedly violated. In 1943 he went into the Army, allegedly because a judge told him to either enlist or go to jail. Mamie was notified after the war that Louis had been executed for “willful misconduct.”
Little Emmett grew up essentially without a father but he did have male influences in his life in the form of great-uncles and cousins then later his mother’s boyfriend, Gene Mobley. He never really knew his father because he left while he was a small child and never came back. Whether he knew he had been executed is unknown. His mother indicated that he didn’t. He only had one grandfather who was only peripherally involved in his life. His mother remarried a man named Mallory in 1946 but the marriage didn’t last long. Mamie’s first job was at an aeronautics school but she got a civil service job as a clerk at an Air Force procurement office in downtown Chicago. She moved to Detroit and lived with her father, who had moved there after he and her mother divorced. She worked as a clerk at a military induction center while in Detroit. Her mother was a strict Church of God in Christ holiness but her father liked to play the piano and sing In clubs. One day he walked out and didn’t come back. She was eleven. She was almost thirty when she reunited with him in Detroit. She married a man named Pink Bradley in Detroit in 1951 but the marriage only lasted two years. Emmett wasn’t around him much. The little boy didn’t like living in Detroit so he went back to Argo to live with his great-uncle and aunt. He lived with them in Argo until his mother returned from Detroit with Pink Bradley. His grandmother had sold her house in Argo. She and Mamie bought a two-flat house in South Side Chicago. Mamie quit her job in Detroit and they moved to Chicago and into the second floor of her mother’s building. Pink went with them. Mamie’s mother got him a job at Corn Products in Argo. She got another civil service job with the Social Security Administration. However, Pink would take Mamie’s car and drive back to Detroit every weekend, to see his mother, he said. She learned he was seeing a woman named Margaret and threw him out of the house. After she divorced Bradley, he would sometimes come to visit. Although they had got along while Mamie was married to him, Emmett no longer liked the man. When Pink stopped by for a visit in Chicago and started in on Mamie, Bo, who was sick in bed with the flu, got out of bed and grabbed a kitchen knife. He said to Pink, “if you put your hands on my mother, I will CUT you!” He was eleven at the time. Mamie’s job with Social Security wasn’t panning out. She was working a lot of overtime but couldn’t get promoted. She either returned to her old Air Force job or took a new one. She was moved into a new position working with classified files.
After they moved to South Side, Emmett was enrolled at McCosh Elementary, an all-black school. (Class photos show no white students.) He was described as an average student. He had completed eighth grade when he left for Mississippi and would have been a ninth-grader when he got back. Yet even though they were living in South Side Chicago and he was attending school there. Emmett spent much of his time, most of his weekends, in Argo. His mother relates in her memoir that he started taking a streetcar to Argo when he was only ten years old! She relates accounts of things he did in Argo, such as playing baseball, but she had no idea what else he and his cousins, some of whom were two years or more older than him, were doing. She was working fulltime for the Federal government in downtown Chicago. Emmett was tending to the house and cooking for her during the week but there’s no telling what he was doing on the weekends when he was an hour away in Argo.
The various accounts on the internet focus solely on the Tills and provide no background at all on the whites who were involved. There’s reason for this – Emmett Till has become an industry for some historians, writers, journalists and some of his relatives. They want the focus on him and his mother and don’t want anyone to know anything about J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, because J.W. Milam was a sure enough bona fide war hero and a man not to be trifled with. He had enlisted in the Army in 1941 and served in North Africa and Europe with the 2nd Armored Division, then transferred to the 75th Division. Even though he only had a ninth grade education, he was awarded a battlefield commission which explains the transfer – men who were commissioned from the ranks were normally required to transfer to a different unit. He was wounded by shrapnel – seventeen pieces struck him in the chest. An FBI report of the 2004-2006 investigation only acknowledges that he had a Purple Heart but he was actually highly decorated with a Silver Star, the third-highest US military combat decoration. He probably also had a Bronze Star since he had been awarded the combat infantryman’s badge and the Bronze Star was automatic for anyone with the CIB. This would make him a highly decorated soldier. He held a commission as a first lieutenant in the Army reserve. Known as “Big Milam”, he was a big man with a bald plate and had a reputation as a killer because of his wartime experiences. It was claimed that he had killed Negroes but it wasn’t true. He was also a successful businessman. He owned interests in several stores and some trucks and provided cotton pickers with black drivers to local plantations. He was known as a man who knew how to deal with Negroes. He lived among them. He employed several blacks. Roy Bryant was J.W.’s half-brother. He, too, was a veteran. He had volunteered for the Army in June 1950 at the outbreak of the Korean War and trained as a paratrooper. He served with the 82nd Airborne Division but probably didn’t go overseas – the 82nd remained Stateside at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Roy knew how to fight but he wasn’t a killer like his brother.
 Mrs. Donham and her daughter-in-law claim Tyson was going to help them get the memoir published but Tyson denies it.
 The FBI press release mentions the consideration of charging Mrs. Donham with the dubious charge – the FBI uses it when there’s no indication of a crime – of “Lying to the FBI.” However, there is no mention of charging Tyson with the same crime even though he was unable to substantiate his claim that she had “recanted.”
 Ironically, the incident that prompted Well’s editorial hadn’t happened in the South, but in northern Ohio in a suburb of Cleveland. A black man was convicted of rape although he claimed the sex he had with a white woman was consensual. Allegedly, he had been having sex with a married white woman and when they were caught, she hollered “rape.”
 His mother was born in Mississippi but never lived there after age two. Her family left Mississippi in the 1920s and moved to Illinois and settled in the Chicago area. Some of her relatives remained in Mississippi.
 “Smarting off” was and is common among blacks, particularly in northern ghettos like South Side Chicago and parts of Detroit. Black comedians make it part of their act.
 Money is named for a Mississippi politician.
 The truck evidently belonged to J.W. Milam.
 Some “histories” of Mississippi claim the bottomlands were unsettled, but former slaves and other blacks moved into the region after the Civil War and established farms, which were later wrested from them. However, it is a historical fact that whites moved into the region along the Yalobusha River immediately after the land was purchased from the Choctaw. Some came down from West Tennessee, which had just been settled a few years before.
 Farmers were allotted the amount of cotton they could grow by the Federal government as part of a program instituted during the Roosevelt Administration called the Farm Service Agency. Allotments were determined by the amount of acreage owned by the farmer. I don’t know what our allotment was but it was somewhere around ten acres. Landowners could rent their allotment out to other farmers to grow cotton on their land. Payment was often a share of the revenue from the sale of the cotton.
 Some would have probably referred to the house we lived in as a shack. It was an unpainted clapboard house that had been built in the 1840s-1850s. We had no running water; we got our water from a well outside until my dad had a well put in several years after we moved there.
 The induction center served West Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi.
 “White trash” is a term coined by slaves to describe the poor whites who lived near plantations and sometimes did menial tasks such as cutting and hauling wood.
 Why an intelligent black woman who had been educated in white schools would move with her son into an all-black neighborhood and send him to an all-black school is inexplicable.
 “Parents” is used in the Wikipedia article about her but her father was living almost 250 miles away.
 His grandmother’s husband had died and she had remarried. Although her new husband liked children, he didn’t want them in the house.
 She was probably working on procurement of items for classified projects.
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