Letter to Carolyn Bryant- I hope your conscience is clear

Dear Carolyn Bryant,

I read an interesting story today in Vanity Fair that said you lied on the stand about Emmett Till.  You admitted to it in a new book called The Blood of Emmett Till, and I must say I’m glad you came out with the truth. The truth would’ve been nice the day your then husband, Roy Bryant, was on trial for murdering Till, but better late than never, right? It’s good that we finally read the truth coming from you. To be fair though, it’s not surprising.

willbrownlynchingomaha2
Will Brown was lynched, shot, and burned on September 28, 1919. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Hopefully, after you’ve come clean, your conscience is clear. Holding onto a lie for that long must have been quite the burden, but why did you fib in the first place? Did Till anger you?  Were you coerced into lying on the stand?  The story said you expressed “tender sorrow,” and that you knew nothing Till did warranted his death. Did you believe that back then, or did it take years to develop empathy for Till and his family? I haven’t read the book yet, but these questions pop in my head as I try to imagine why anyone would paint a young boy out to be a violent savage the way you did, and it’s not like you’re the first or last person to do that. The Scottsboro boys suffered a similar fate years before Till was born, but at least nobody killed them.  I wish I could say that about Will Brown in Omaha, Nebraska and numerous other black men during the Red Summer of 1919 or Black Wall Street later.   

Whatever your motivation, it wasn’t hard for an all-white jury to buy your story, so Bryant was acquitted. Mission accomplished. Till’s murder went unpunished. Justice was not served that day.  Unlike you, I won’t lie . If we’re going to be completely honest, with no political correctness as our new president would say, then this must be said.

You owe Till’s family, and the rest of the country, an apology.

It’s the least you can do. While you covered for your man, you also helped perpetuate an age-old narrative that black people are violent savages who must be controlled. In the eyes of his peers, Bryant was likely a hero. In fact, if he did nothing, he would’ve been seen as a coward, and his supporters congratulated him after his acquittal. In White America, he had to show the Negro his place, and you helped confirm that belief for generations by smearing Till’s name to vouch for him.  Because of people like you,  store owners followed boys like Till and police stopped and frisked them. People like you made it easier for Jon Burge to torture over 100 black people into confessing for crimes with near impunity in Chicago. People like you helped pass down the white nationalist belief that black men are a danger to white women just by existing, the same belief that pushed Dylann Roof into killing nine innocent people. Roof made it clear that he did not regret shooting people because they were black, and there’s no evidence that Bryant regretted his actions either.  Why would they? In their minds, they were doing the public a service by protecting women like you.

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Mamie Till, Emmett Till’s mother, insisted on an open-casket funeral.

On the bright side, people like you were also a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.  Along with black Americans suffering over 4,000 lynchings by 1950, staring at Till’s mutilated face in his casket inside of Jet Magazine was strong evidence that something had to change.  Rosa Parks was certainly bothered by Till’s death, among others just like him, and she later refused to give up her seat. By showing that a black life didn’t matter, you, and those after you, inspired Black Lives Matter. I would like to thank you, but I doubt you were trying to help the lives of people of color in that courtroom. In fact, I doubt you had any intention on provoking social change after the trial, or you would’ve attempted to atone for your sin through public action a long time ago instead of dropping out of sight only to admit to lying on the stand long after the statute of limitations for perjury has passed. Still, I am grateful that great men and women, both black and white, saw behavior like yours as a big enough problem that only a great movement could fight it, and you played a big part in that.

Bravo.

I hope your conscience is clear. I hope the weight you carried all these years finally dropped from your shoulders . You’re 82 years old now and probably couldn’t bear holding onto such a lie with so little time left on this earth, but now that you’ve rid yourself of it, I ask you to carry something else.  Mamie Till-Mobley died in 2003 at 81 years old. After her son died, she wanted to hide too, but instead she put her son’s death front and center for the world to see and spent years working with children in poor neighborhoods. You’re still alive, so now it’s your turn.  You contributed to the racial damage in this country. Now do your part to clean up the mess you helped make.  I don’t care how, but you can start by showing your tender sorrow instead of just talking about it, and please try to be as creative at helping others as you were deceiving them.

I look forward to your future plans.

No apologies (unless you lie on the stand),

G.Miller

Photo credit:

Emmett Till-Image Editor

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