When 14-year-old Emmett Till walked into a Mississippi store in August 1955, the black teen had no clue that his entrance would lead to his untimely death. And little did anyone in 2017 anticipate that, decades later, the white woman whose words sealed his fate would partly recant her explosive accusations. Sheila Weller revisits for Vanity Fair the story of the boy who helped launch the civil rights movement, as well as the story of Carolyn Bryant Donham, the shopkeeper's wife who back then alleged Emmett had whistled at her, grabbed her by the waist, and said, "You needn't be afraid of me, baby. I've [slept] with white women before." His supposed actions led her then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, JW Milam, to seek Emmett out to torture and murder him—charges for which they were acquitted, but which they admitted to for a paid magazine article a few months later.
But Weller talks to Timothy Tyson, whose book The Blood of Emmett Till comes out next week, and Tyson says when he interviewed Donham in 2007, the then-72-year-old admitted she'd made up the worst bits of her story. "That part's not true," she told Tyson of the waist-grabbing and sexual talk Emmett had purportedly engaged in. Donham, who was writing her own memoirs—which won't be released until 2036, per Tyson—had since come out against white supremacy and told Tyson, "Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him." Weller says Donham, now 82 and living in seclusion, didn't go so far as to mention to Tyson that she felt guilty. Weller notes her words, and Tyson's book, have given us "reason to revisit a period in our history when bigotry, blood, and sacrifice became a call to action." Read the full story at Vanity Fair. (The Austin American-Statesman says Donham may have more she's not saying.)