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Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose accusations led to the killing of Emmett Till, has died

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Carolyn Bryant Donham has died. She's the white woman whose accusations led to the killing of Emmett Till. She has always maintained her innocence regarding the 1955 lynching of the Black teenager. Michael Guidry of Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports.

MICHAEL GUIDRY, BYLINE: Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Money, Miss., when he was beaten and shot to death for allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant in her family's grocery store. Her husband at the time, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother were tried for Till's murder but were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. They later confessed to Look magazine that they had killed Till. The Reverend Wheeler Parker is Emmett Till's cousin. He had traveled from Chicago with Till in 1955 to spend the summer with family in the Mississippi Delta. He says the mission now of the Till family is to serve humanity through grace.

WHEELER PARKER JR: My heart goes out. And they have my sympathy, and they have my prayers. As people of God, you have a certain responsibility - innate responsibility - to love everybody and to wish everybody well and pray for the well.

GUIDRY: Till's death sparked national outrage and became a catalyst for the civil rights movement. His mother insisted on an open-casket funeral to show the world what was done to her son. The Justice Department reopened an investigation in 2018 after a book quoted Carolyn Bryant Donham saying she lied about Till's advances. Her family has publicly denied that Donham has said that. The Justice Department closed that investigation two years ago without bringing charges. Donham's death means no legal justice will come from the case, but Reverend Parker says the story should live on as a reminder.

PARKER: We're not turning away from the story. We have to tell the truth. We seek the truth and want the truth known, and it helps us bring closure. Mississippi has changed. We've come a long way, and we still have a long way to go.

GUIDRY: Donham had been in end-of-life hospice care in Calcasieu Parish in Louisiana due to cancer.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Guidry in Jackson, Miss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Guidry