In the summer of 1955, a young African-American male from Chicago visiting his family in Money, Mississippi, was murdered. The young man was fourteen and his name was Emmett Till.
Till allegedly whistled at a 21-year-old White woman by the name of Carolyn Bryant after buying candy from her in a local store (some reports say he didn’t whistle, they say he had a lisp), and the interaction ended his life.
Although racism is alive and well now, in the past more civilians (White men) felt obligated to physically take matters into their own hands. In southern fashion, Carolyn’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till from his family after learning about Till’s alleged advances.
They brutally murdered him and attempted to dispose of his body in a local river; however, his body was discovered three days later. According to reports authorities wanted to bury him immediately, but Emmett Till’s mother Mamie Bradley requested the body be sent back to Chicago. After seeing the remains of his body, she decided to have an open casket funeral which ushered in the 60s Civil Rights Movement like a backdoor pilot.
Less than two weeks after Till was buried, Bryant and Milam went on trial. During the trial Carolyn Bryant testified that Till grabbed her the same evening he allegedly whistled at her. Douglas O. Linder writes that Bryant said that “just after dark” with her alone in the store, Till strongly gripped her hand. She said she jerked her hand loose “with much difficulty” as Till asked her, “How about a date, baby?” When she tried to walk away, she stated, Till grabbed her by the waist and said, “You needn’t be afraid of me. I’ve”–and here Bryant said Till used an “unprintable word”–“white women before.” Bryant testified, “I was just scared to death.”
The judge ruled her testimony inadmissible, but most of the jurors knew of her account. Her testimony also greatly influenced the public’s opinion of the trial. At the end of the trial, it only took the jury an hour of deliberation to determine Bryant and Milam were not guilty (shocker). Now six decades later it’s coming to light that Till’s death may have only occurred due to a falsehood. In plainer words, Carolyn Bryant revealed that she lied (used alternative facts).
According to Vanity Fair, in a new book, The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon & Schuster), Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar, reveals that Carolyn—in 2007, at age 72—confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony. “That part’s not true,” she told Tyson, about her claim that Till had made verbal and physical advances on her. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”
Carolyn Bryant lied, but she truly only did what many still do today. She fabricated the story to protect herself in a situation with no regards to the ramifications of the lie. Sound similar to many cases of police brutality?
“He was reaching for his gun!” “I was scared for my life!” “I felt threatened!” “He was resisting!” “She wasn’t listening!” How many cases have lies been used to justify the senseless loss of Black lives and used by courts to deliver not guilty verdicts in the first hour? And too often, like in Till’s case, the truth comes out after the lie has already run its course. Lives are changed. People are dead. And the cycle is reset.
What would have happened to Emmett Till if Carolyn Bryant hadn’t lied? What would’ve happened to Sandra Bland if the officer didn’t label her remarks as “resistance”? What would’ve happened if the media didn’t justify Philando Castile’s murder as the officer fearing for his life?
The parallels aren’t loose. Take for instance the death of John Crawford III. Crawford was in Walmart doing absolutely nothing to incite conflict when Ronald T. Ritchie (a white man, not that it’s important…), like Bryant, lied about what Crawford was doing with a gun. Once officers arrived at Walmart, they fatally shot Crawford. Like with Till, Ritchie’s fabrication of the truth essentially ended Crawford’s life.
Crawford’s case also sets a precedent; not only are civilians lying about occurrences, but police officers are also fabricating their stories. The report from Officer Sean Williams, the officer who shot Crawford, doesn’t match up with the video evidence. Lying has become a norm with cases involving officers killing innocent people in order for them avoid conviction.
And like many officers who have drawn blood from Black men and women, Carolyn Bryant is somewhere strolling around with her freedom untouched. What year is it again?
Don’t let the fact that this case happened in the fifties make you think that her confession isn’t incredibly relevant. History is continuously repeating itself. People of color are often subjected to lies of those like Carolyn Bryant. And temporary lies can cause permanent effects. Stay vigilant. Because everyone in your life selling you candy isn’t truly giving you something sweet.