The Word Of A White Woman Can Still Get Black People Killed

It was true when Emmett Till was lynched, and it’s true today.

Now Carolyn Bryant is 82 years old, in the “throes” of death, having lived a wonderful life, I am sure. Now she admits she lied about some of statements, but most astonishing of all, she didn’t repent for her part in the death of this young man.

On the witness stand, Carolyn Bryant, the 21 year old wife of Roy Bryant,  had asserted that Till had grabbed her and verbally threatened her. She said that while she was unable to utter the “unprintable” word he had used (as one of the defense lawyers put it), “he said [he had]’”—done something – “with white women before.’” Then she added, “I was just scared to death.”  Emmett Till would be later murdered by two white men, J.W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant, husband of Carolyn Bryant—the country-store owner.  Later she confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony. “That part’s not true,” she told Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar and author of the new book,  The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon & Schuster),   about her claim that Till had made verbal and physical advances on her.  Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”

This story is very haunting to me because at the time this happened (August 1955), I was five years old the day Emmett Till’s body was found, and pulled from the Tallahatchie River, was August 31, 1955.  I was five years old; nine days shy of my sixth birthday.  I had already been in school a year now, as back then, you could start school at five if your sixth anniversary of your birthday was on or before December of that year.

I remember sitting on the porch as I listened to my mother and several other ladies were talking and I heard my mother say “they pulled that poor boys body from the river this morning.”  Bear in mind I was barely six years old, and even growing up in Mississippi and with all of the ills of racism and Jim Crow so ubiquitous at the time, I didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of the incident then.  It’s hard for some to believe, especially if you didn’t grow up in the segregated Deep South, but black parents did a really good job of insulating their children from becoming a similar statistic as Emmett Till.  They did so then, as many do now, by having conversations with them about how we “deported” ourselves.  They talked then, as they do now, about how to respond when confronted with angry white men and the need to be extra careful about our interactions with white women.  They knew that even a casual association with white girls and women could cause us great harm, if only due to mere casual acquaintance, or the expected (Southern) gentlemanly courtesies children were expected to display to all adults, white and black.

So, pardon me if I share the same empathy for Carolyn Bryant, and the hell she faces for being a willing co-conspirator – and I don’t use the word lightly – in the death of this innocent young man.  He was eight years older than me, but he and I were in the same general age group.  The number of black men, and children, during the reign of terror by (the) Jim Crow Southern terrorists will never be fully counted, or accounted for.  The number of white women who either through sheer hatred or fear, or both, who knowingly helped to murder black men, then and now, is incomprehensible and unforgivable.

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