In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was raped by Caroline’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam after he was accused of flirting with a white woman (Caroline Bryant). Emmett is a black boy visiting family in Mississippi. The two men, also white, were acquitted. After the trial, they confessed to killing Emmett in an interview with Look Magazine. Roy and J.W. disappear into their own sad lives, but what happened to Caroline Bryant?
What happened to Caroline Bryant?
Carolyn and her husband Roy run a grocery store called Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, where Emmett trades with Carolyn. On a hot summer day in August 1955, Emmett, known for her mischief, walked into the store. Details of that day are hazy. Caroline claims Emmett came behind the counter where she worked, grabbed her, said a few rude words and then whistled at her as she left.
A few days later, Caroline’s husband came home. When he learned what had happened, he contacted his half-brother, J.W., and the two kidnapped and murdered Emmett. An all-white jury acquitted them.
Eventually, Caroline divorced Roy and took their children with them. She remarried twice and never spoke publicly about Emmett Till again—that is, until 2007, when she met Timothy Tyson, a senior research scholar at Duke University who was writing a book about Emmett Till. Tyson) to talk.
In The Blood of Emmett (2017), Caroline admits to lying about what Emmett said and did to her that day. He didn’t say anything to her or touch her in any way. Caroline actually contacted Timothy because she was writing her own memoir. According to Timothy, Caroline is glad times have changed, although she has not explicitly asked for forgiveness. Caroline did mention feeling “tender sadness” for Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley.
After this came to light, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reopened the case, but closed it again in December 2021 after failing to prove Caroline lied. When asked about dropping the case, Caroline “denied to the FBI that she ever withdrew her testimony,” according to the Justice Department. Timothy recorded their conversation but was unable to make a tape with corrections. His aides also transcribed the interview, but also made no mention of the statement.
Is Caroline Bryant still alive?
Caroline is believed to be alive today, and if so, she would be 88. Details of her life and whereabouts have been kept secret by her family, although Caroline is said to be in poor health before Timothy Tyson’s book was published.
Emmett Till’s memory remains an uphill battle
While a new ABC limited series “Women in Motion” is adding light to Emmett Till’s story, there’s still a lot of work to be done. The grocery store where Emmett allegedly accosted Caroline was in ruins, but the owner refused to sell it. In August 2018, The Clarion Ledger reported that the dilapidated building was selling for as much as $4 million. It was ridiculous and felt very planned and brutal.
Multiple attempts to purchase the building to turn it into a civil rights museum were thwarted by the children of the late Ray Tribble, who owned it. Ray was one of the jurors who voted to acquit Emmett’s killer, and he defended his decision long after the trial. There are no other words to describe the situation other than disgusting. Thankfully, organizations like the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation are working hard to preserve his memory.