The relatives of Emmett Till are demanding for authorities to prosecute the white woman who was responsible for the 14th-year-old’s tragic lynching in 1955.
According to AP News, Carolyn Bryant Donham, who claimed Till whistled at her outside of a convenience store where she worked in Money, Mississippi, is still living. The 80-year-old now lives in North Carolina, but Deborah Watts, a cousin of the young Chicago native, fears that they are running out of time to bring Donham to justice.
“Time is not on our side,” Watts said during a press conference at the Mississippi capital on Mar.11, the publication noted. During the conference, Till’s relatives were joined by 250,000 people as they confronted Mississippi authorities with a petition to reopen the historic case.
“We demand that the state of Mississippi hold Carolyn Bryant Donham accountable for her role in the kidnapping and lynching of Emmett Louis Till,” Watts said during her speech.
“It’s important for you to know that Emmett’s murder remains unsolved and the last living accomplice in the murder case is Carolyn Bryant. And yes, she is alive. She denies that she recanted her story that Emmett made sexual advances towards her…and her family stands by the lie that she told in 1955. She lied and Emmett died.”
Federal officials reopened the case in 2017 after Donham admitted that she lied about Till’s alleged harassment during an interview in Timothy B. Tyson’s book “The Blood of Emmett Till.” However, relatives of the woman have maintained her innocence and Tyson allegedly told the Justice Department that he was unable to show recordings or documentation to prove Donham’s confession about her encounter with Till.
In 1955, Donham’s former husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam were tried for Till’s murder, but the pair were later acquitted. However, months later, they confessed to the teen’s chilling murder during an interview with Look Magazine.
New evidence suggests that there were more people who took part in Till’s brutal lynching. According to AP News, “a half-dozen to more than 14” men were suspected to have joined Bryant and Milam during the horrific incident that sparked a national outcry for civil rights across America.
The news comes after president Biden approved the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act earlier this week, which will make lynching a federal hate crime. The new piece of legislation will also make it possible to prosecute a crime as a lynching when a conspiracy of a crime results in death or bodily injury. Perpetrators would receive a maximum of 30 years under the law.
In other related news, a playwright from John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theatre is set to debut a new theatrical piece that will explore Till’s death through the eyes of a fictional white high school teacher from Mississippi named Roanna Taylor. Clare Coss’s new play “Emmett Till, A New American Opera,” will follow Taylor, who “is against Jim Crow laws, segregation and the racial inequality,” as she grapples with Tills death, but remains fearful of speaking out against the atrocity. The play will premiere at Gerald W. Lynch Theatre on Mar. 23, with an encore performance scheduled for Mar. 24.
In a statement, Coss said she was “compelled” to “keep telling Emmett’s story,” recalling how the case affected her as a student while attending the Lousiana State University Baton Rouge campus.
“Emmett Till was murdered not far upriver from where I was a junior at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. No one in my largely white world would talk about what happened. A child brutally tortured and lynched—the breakdown of justice. White supremacy and Jim Crow ruled. Over the years, the pain of Emmett’s murder continued to plague my heart,” her statement read, according to Playbill.
The playwright continued:
“In 1992, I awoke one morning with a spiritual mandate to write a play about Emmett Till. I approached writing about him through my conviction that this tragedy is shared in the way the tragic history of this country is shared. White people as perpetrators and witnesses of white supremacy have a stake in this story. I want people to understand that it was not so long ago.”
Many Black social media goers were outraged by Coss’s forthcoming piece, noting how the playwright was attempting to whitewash Till’s cataclysmic murder.
“A play about Emmett Till written by a white woman????” one user wrote on Twitter.
Another person replied:
“An opera … about Emmett Till … a REAL Black boy who was tortured & murdered after being falsely accused by a white woman… written by a white woman… centering a white woman … who ISN’T real… so she can *checks notes* “journey towards a sense of responsibility”???????????”
While a third user chimed in:
“I promise you no one wants this.”
What do you think about Coss’s new play? Is it insensitive to Till’s story?
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