The White woman who accused Emmett Till of making advances toward her says the Black teen admitted it was him when her husband and two other men brought Emmett to her, according to a 99-page unpublished draft memoir obtained by CNN.
The contents of the memoir were first reported on by Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.
In the draft memoir, Carolyn Bryant Donham claimed after she told her then-husband Roy Bryant that Emmett wasn’t the person she encountered in the store, the 14-year-old smiled and said, “Yes, it was me.”
Details revealed by Donham in the sealed draft memoir are raising new questions surrounding Emmett’s murder and the events before and after his death because of some contradictory statements she made at the time.
The memoir had been held for release until 2036 due to an agreement with Donham and historian Timothy Tyson at the University of North Carolina, which confirmed to CNN that it holds a collection including the Donham memoir.
Tyson received the draft memoir from Donham in 2008, according to an FBI memo, which also indicates that Donham eventually decided against publishing the draft. Donham says she “sought his help in writing, editing, and publishing her memoir,” according to the FBI.
Tyson says he provided the FBI the memoir to aid in its reexaminations of the case in 2017 and tells CNN he recently gave copies of the unpublished draft memoir to news outlets after the discovery of an unserved 1955 arrest warrant on kidnapping charges for Donham, Bryant and another man, found in a box of documents stored in a Mississippi courthouse basement.
“I decided that if there was going to be a re-investigation, that criminal justice outweighs the archival agreement,” Tyson tells CNN.
Tyson says he has not spoken to Donham since he interviewed her in 2008.
CNN has been unable to reach Donham for comment on the release of the unpublished draft memoir.
It comes just weeks after CNN reported on the discovery of the arrest warrant, a copy of which, was provided by the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.
Emmett’s 1955 murder sparked global outrage and the lack of accountability continues to fuel the Till family’s fight for justice.
Retired FBI agent Dale Killinger, who investigated the murder in 2004-2005 for the FBI, says Donham’s statements in her memoir contradict what she told him during an interview. In a phone interview Saturday, Killinger said that Donham told him Emmett said nothing when Bryant brought the teen to her.
“She said Emmett didn’t say anything,” Killinger recalls of his interview with Donham. “She did say, in 2005, something to the effect of, ‘I couldn’t have identified him,’ so as far as I know she’s never said that she did state that the boy was Emmett Till,” Killinger said.
Killinger also spoke to CNN about the newly discovered warrant in the Till case.
“It means there was probable cause in 1955 to issue a warrant, we hadn’t known that had occurred. When I investigated back in 2004-5, we knew allegedly there was a warrant, but we didn’t have any record of it. I think I asked her, and she said she wasn’t aware of one,” he added.
Donham says in the draft memoir she learned of the warrant for her arrest from the FBI. “Decades later, when I was being interviewed by the FBI, I found out that there was also a warrant for my arrest, but they didn’t arrest me, in fact, at the time, they didn’t even tell me that there was a warrant. The FBI told me the warrant was for kidnapping. I was surprised when he showed it to me. The person that filed the kidnapping charges said there was a soft voice in the truck, but they didn’t see who it was. I guess the sheriff thought it was me. I was never arrested or charged with anything.”
The Till family attorney told CNN on Friday that they are aware of the unpublished draft memoir, titled “I Am More Than a Wolf Whistle,” and have mixed emotions.
“My thoughts as an advocate are that there’s a lot of information there that points to her culpability, and it should be used as new evidence of her culpability,” said Jaribu Hill, the family’s attorney.
“But at the same time, the memoir is just rife with making her look like the victim, making her look like someone who was a victim of the times, and clueless, but our position remains that she intentionally participated in the kidnapping.”
Tyson further addresses the arrest warrant, telling CNN: “The unserved warrant that Keith Beauchamp and his research team found in the courthouse basement provides an opportunity for prosecutors to brush aside the dust in history’s basement, illuminate the dark corners of the case, and decide whether there is any ground for an indictment. Two FBI investigations and a … Leflore County grand jury have already said that there is nothing prosecutable in the historical record. But that was before we knew about the warrant.”
As part of the South’s unwritten racial code, Black men and boys were forbidden from initiating interactions with White women. Emmett’s murder, and his mother’s insistence on publishing photographs of her son’s battered body, helped to spur the civil rights movement in America.