The family of Emmett Till, a black boy murdered in Mississippi 64 years ago after allegedly whistling at a white woman, have reacted with fury after the woman linked to the notorious case admitted that the most incendiary parts of the story she told about him were a lie and she now feels ‘tender sorrow’.

Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, was shot and beaten to death and disfigured beyond recognition by two white men in racially segregated Mississippi in 1955 after stopping at a store to buy two cents of bubble gum.

The men walked free, acquitted of murder by an all-male, all-white jury in an hour despite having already admitted the crime to law enforcement.

In a newly revealed 10-year-old interview to be published in a book today, Carolyn Bryant, the wife of one of the men arrested for Till’s murder and the woman whose testimony carried the case, admitted her account was ‘not true’.

Speaking to after Bryant’s confession was revealed, Till’s cousin Wheeler Parker who was with him the night of the incident – and when he was taken from his bed to his death, said: ‘My family thinks she’s trying to make money but being a preacher, I think she is trying to find a way to go heaven now.’

Parker, now a pastor of a church in Illinois that Till and his mother attended, added: ‘Whatever the motive, I am very pleased that she’s telling the truth.’ But others from Till’s family are upset that it has taken 10 years for Bryant’s confession to be made public, published in a book The Blood of Emmett Till by Duke University professor Timothy Tyson.

Airicka Gordon-Taylor, who is Till’s mother’s cousin and the family’s spokeswoman, said: ‘There are people who have died in the last 10 years whose lives were very impacted by what happened in 1955….that disturbs me.’

The horror unfolded on a night in August 1955 when Bryant, then 21, had been working at the store the night Till went to buy gum. Shortly after leaving the store, it’s likely he whistled at her. On the stand she told the court that he had grabbed her and verbally accosted her. In her evocative testimony she couldn’t bring herself to say the ‘unprintable’ word he’d said to her – only that he told her he’d done ‘something’ with white women before.

It took the jury less than an hour to acquit Roy Bryant, and his half-brother John Milam of Till’s murder.

A jury member later said: ‘We wouldn’t have taken so long if we hadn’t stopped to drink pop.’

At the time, Mississippi had very few white on black crime convictions, and led the nation in lynchings.

Several months later, the men admitted killing Emmett in an interview with Look Magazine, safe in the knowledge they were protected by double jeopardy laws and were paid $3,000 for sharing their story. Bryant now 82, has kept silent for six decades and her whereabouts have been kept secret by her family. The new book’s author said the case ‘went a long way to ruining her life’. She could never escape its notoriety.

During their interview in 2007, Tyson said it was evident that the times had changed Bryant, then called Carolyn Bryant Donham, having remarried.

Regarding her statement that Emmett grabbed and verbally abused her, she simply said, ‘that part’s not true,’ Tyson told Vanity Fair.

She claims she doesn’t remember anything else about the evening.

He said: ‘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.’ Carolyn told him nothing Emmett could have done would have justified his death, and that she feels ‘tender sorrow’ for his mother, known as Mamie Till-Mobley, who campaigned for civil rights for her entire life until she died in 2003.

After Emmett’s death, his mother insisted that his funeral be an open casket, so that the world could see what had been done to him.

The image of his inflated, contorted face was published on the cover of Jet Magazine, and ignited and mobilized the public to rally for equal rights. Bryant said that losing her own son helped her to understand and sympathize with the grief Emmett’s mother felt.

But Till’s surviving family reacted with fury to this sympathy. Gordon-Taylor who runs the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation said: ‘She is a coward…How dare she compare losing her son to Mamie losing Emmett?

‘There is no comparison. Your son most likely died in normal circumstances but you caused Emmett to be murdered in a very heinous way.’

She added that she cannot understand why the author waited 10 years before publishing the confession.

Tyson had explained the delay by saying: ‘I’m more interested in what speaks to the ages than in what is the latest media thing.’


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