Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White Woman Whose Accusation Set Off Emmett Till's Lynching, Dead at 88

Carolyn Bryant
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The late Louisiana woman's accusation set off Emmett Till's lynching.

Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White woman whose accusation set off Emmett Till's lynching, died on Tuesday, the coroner for the Parish of Calcasieu in Louisiana confirmed to CBS News.

Donham, who lived in Westlake, Louisiana, died at 11:59 p.m. in her home, coroner Terry Welke confirmed in a fact-of-death letter. She was 88 years old, the coroner said.

Known as a key figure in Emmett Till's lynching, Donham wrote in an unpublished manuscript obtained by the Associated Press she "tried to help the youth by denying it was him."

Men brought the 14-year-old to her house in the middle of the night after she accused the teen of grabbing her while she worked alone in her family store in Money, Mississippi.

Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi from Chicago when he was accused, abducted and lynched for this interaction. His disfigured body was found in a river days later. When his mother Mamie Till Mobley buried her son in Chicago, she decided to open the casket fueling the nascent civil rights movement.

Till's cousin the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. said in a statement to CBS News that even though no one would be held to account for his cousin's death "it is up to all of us to be accountable to the challenges we still face in overcoming racial injustice."

In 2022, a grand jury in Mississippi declined to prosecute Donham for her role in the events that led to Till's lynching. The U.S. Justice Department announced the year before that it was ending its investigation into the case.

Documentarian Keith A. Beauchamp, a producer of the Hollywood movie Till and The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till -- the film the Department of Justice said encouraged officials to open the department's 2004 investigation -- said in a statement to CBS News said he hopes "the State of Mississippi, local authorities and Federal government release all files on this case to the public, so we all can bear witness to this miscarriage of justice."

This story was originally published by CBS News on Thursday, April 27, at 4:39 p.m. ET.