Carolyn Bryant: When White Lies Take Black Lives


Before there was Leah McSweeney, there was Carolyn Bryant. The lies she told on Emmett Till caught the world’s attention in the 1950’s.

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Carolyn Bryant Then vs. 2004

Do you know the story of Emmett Till?

Not one history class I had in high school came close to it. My African-American History class that I took in college didn’t get past telling me that some slaves actually didn’t mind being slaves *insert side-eye*. So if you know, I know that you found out on your own.  That’s why I don’t fault too many young people for not knowing who he is. Here’s a quick summary:

Emmett, a 14-year-old from Chicago, was visiting family in Mississippi. He went to a store where a 21-year-old Carolyn worked. She claimed that me grabbed her, made lewd comments, then whistled at her on his way out. She told her husband, who took his brother to find him. When they found Emmett, they made him strip, beat him to death, shot him in the head, gouged his eye out, tied his mutilated body to a cotton gin fan and tossed it in a river. He was so badly disfigured that he could only be identified by his ring on his hand.

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The line to see Emmett’s Body

His mother chose to have an glasstop casket to show the world what the lynching had done. Not only did the two men dodge a conviction–despite solid evidence– they admitted what they did to a magazine and made $3,000 on the interview. Ol’ Carolyn disappeared into the shadows.

This wasn’t just some minor lynching. It led to action in other racist crimes. It played a huge part in the civil rights movement. Langston Hughes wrote a poem about it. It’s been compared to Trayvon Martin‘s murder while getting the same international attention as Michael Brown in Ferguson. Some good came of it. But at the end of the day, it all stems from a woman’s lie.

You heard right. I guess sitting on the truth for 49 years became too much, so she let Author Timothy Tyson know that what she said on the stand wasn’t true. It’s something that many people always knew. You’d think it would make you feel better hearing the truth, but it made it even worse, from every possible angle.

Race removed: she’s at the root of one of the most gruesome murders in modern history. She lied to her husband, committed perjury in front of a judge. Her husband and brother-in-law’s lives were ruined, but she came out unscathed. She’s married twice since. Even when the case was reopened in 2004, nothing came of it. The law couldn’t put her behind bars, but karma came for that ass.

From a parental perspective:  Karma came for Carolyn in that she’s lost a son, too. She said in that book she knows how Mrs. Till felt, which made it worse. I would dispute that:  If Emmett’s mother hadn’t died the year before the case was reopened, she’d die this week, knowing that she had to bury her teenage son behind a LIE.

Adding race back into the equation: This backed a broad, nasty picture of Black men always after White women, and White men being intimidated by that– to the point of murder. Of course,  as long as it doesn’t cross the color line, it’s not so bad. If a young White man had committed what Emmett was accused of doing, it would have been dismissed as, “boys will be boys”: Brock Turner did worse and he’s somewhere assualting a swimmer right now.

Adding a touch of gender: She did a huge disservice for women. I hate to put the action of one on the backs of many, but that’s all it takes in oppressed circles. Right now,  Parliament in Russia is voting to decriminalize domestic violence. There are legitimate sexual assault victims, back then and now, who have to fight for credibility because women like Carolyn cast doubt in the minds of those in power.

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The two men responsible for Till’s death

The statute of limitations for perjury has passed on both cases. But there has to be something that could be done to this woman. Bill Cosby has to answer for what he did 30, 40 years ago and his victims are still here. So what, she’s exempt from a 60-year-old crime because her victim’s dead?

But we know that nothing will come of this; the sympathy for a living White woman is stronger in this country than the death of a young Black man. I could sense it from Timothy Tyson:

“That case went a long way toward ruining her life,” Tyson told Vanity Fair.

The case — that would’ve been prevented had she told the truth–ruined her life? She had no regard for the lives of anyone around her, namely young Emmett.

So fuck hers.


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