In Unpublished Manuscript, Emmett Till's Accuser Denies She Wanted Him Killed

Carolyn Bryant Donham's memoir must remain under seal until 2036

Emmett Till, Carolyn Bryant Donham. Photo: AP; Gene Herrick/AP

A copy of a sealed 109-page memoir authored years ago by Carolyn Bryant Donham — the white woman who falsely accused Black teenager Emmett Till of lewdly grabbing her in 1955, leading to the boy's kidnapping and lynching in Mississippi — seems to contradict information she has provided to investigators over the years.

While the manuscript — which is kept at the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — remains under seal until 2036, the Mississippi Center For Investigative Reporting was furnished with a copy of it. The Associated Press has also seen the single-spaced memoir.

The organization had retired FBI agent Dale Killinger review the document, and he believes the book constitutes new evidence.

The book was never entered into evidence back in 2007, when a Mississippi grand jury decided not to indict Donham on manslaughter charges.

The discovery of Donham's memoir — titled I am More Than A Wolf Whistle — comes weeks after an unserved arrest warrant related to Emmett's death was found in a courthouse basement, renewing calls from Emmett's relatives that the woman face charges.

Emmett, who was from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi during the summer of 1955 when Donham, then 21, accused him of whistling at her and attempting to grab her hand and waist inside a store.

Days later, Emmett was kidnapped from a relative's home, beaten severely, and mutilated before being shot. Afterwards, a large metal fan was tied to his neck with barbed wire and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

Donham's husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and Bryant's half-brother, J.W. Milam, were tried for Emmett's murder, and an all-white jury acquitted them in September 1955 after an hour of deliberations. In a magazine interview after the trial, both men admitted killing the boy.

Emmett's death would become one of the catalysts for the civil rights movement.

In 2007, Donham recanted part of her story, telling Timothy B. Wilson for his book, The Blood of Emmett Till, the teen never touched her or harassed her verbally.

While she said in a 2017 interview that Emmett never touched or made sexual advances toward her, in the memoir, she claims the murdered boy did. The AP reports that she also claims in the book she tried helping Emmett.

"I did not wish Emmett any harm and could not stop harm from coming to him, since I didn't know what was planned for him," Donham said in the manuscript, which was actually co-written by her daughter-in-law. "I tried to protect him by telling Roy that 'He's not the one. That's not him. Please take him home.'"

She claims in the manuscript that a fearless Emmett spoke up and identified himself, and was then dragged away by gunpoint.

Donham's memoir notes that she "always felt like a victim as well as Emmett" and "paid dearly with an altered life" for what happened to him. "I have always prayed that God would bless Emmett's family. I am truly sorry for the pain his family was caused," she says toward the end of the book.

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Deborah Watts, a cousin of Emmett's who heads the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, told the AP the manuscript provides new evidence that should lead to criminal charges against Donham.

"I truly believe these developments cannot be ignored by the authorities in Mississippi," Watts said.

Donham is now nearing 90, and currently resides in North Carolina.

She has made no comment on Emmett's family's recent calls for her arrest. PEOPLE has been unable to locate her for comment.

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