No Sympathy For The Devil

There is a saying that you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead. But I think whoever coined that phrase would find something bad to say about Carolyn Bryant Donham, who finally died this past week at the age of 88 from cancer. Despite what people may say or think, not everyone deserves our sympathies. She was one of them.

If you don’t know, Bryant Donham was the wife of Roy Bryant, who in late August 1955 accused Emmett Till, 14, of whistling at her and attacking her at the grocery store she was the proprietor of near Money, Miss. There has been a dispute that he didn’t whistle but actually said she said looked like a model. This was what was in the movie Till. Other accusations have said Emmett may have even touched her or tried to attack her. But these have been heavily debated since Emmett was with some other people who didn’t report it.

Hell, it could’ved been something as innocent as a friendly smile and nod at Bryant Donham that she took as an insult. Either way, none of these should’ve led to him being kidnapped by Bryant and his half-cousin J.W. Milam, with the assistance of other people who were African-Americans, being kidnapped in the middle of the night from his great-uncle’s house, beaten and killed. The question people haven’t really considered is how did Bryant find out about it. Obviously, Bryant Donham told him out of disgust.

If Emmet did whistle, it could’ve been misintepreted. The young man had a stuttering problem which affects several million people worldwide. So, he would whistle to help him say things. Some have theorized he was asking for bubble gum or candy and let out a whistle that Bryant Donham intepreted as a wolf whistle. Regardless, she took offense. And she went to her husband knowing he would resolve the matter.

Bryant falsely testified under court that Emmett had grabbed her while she was stocking a shelf and asked for a date. He then followed her to the cash register before the other people he was with got him to leave. Historian Timothy Tyson said in a 2008, she denied these allegations even trying to show sympathy for Emmett stating “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” But that might be the only true thing she ever said on the matter.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted at the murder trial. She was photographed happily smiling with Bryant following the acquittal. And she stayed married to Bryant until 1979. Some people could argue that being just 21 herself, she was a victim of domestic abuse and told her husband what he wanted to hear to avoid being hit. I seriously doubt women, even those who were white, had any more rights in 1955 Mississippi than the African-Americans of the era. Bryant himself would die of bone cancer in 1994. Milam would die of cancer too in 1980.

One good thing you can say about cancer, sometimes it picks the right people. Sadly, it isn’t immediate. Milam was 61. Bryant was 63. Bryant Donham was 88. Emmett was only 14. They got to live long lives and raise families. Emmett never got that. As his family members have expressed, no one was ever tried in the court of Man. If there is a Hell, I’m sure, Milam, Bryan and Bryant Donham all belong there. If they made it to Heaven, then they’re still in their own personal Hell because Emmett is there, along with the victims of other lynchings and Jim Crow violence.

It’s sad that Emmett’s death put a national spotlight on the harsh realties of Jim Crow and segregation. In his Netflix special, Chris Rock says his mother, who was born in 1945 in the south had to go to a veterinarian for dental care because it was illegal for them to go to white dentist. I think at another time, Rock said there were incidents in which white people would just come into his family’s homes and take whatever they felt like – food, appliances, furniture, etc.

In what some would call a controversial move, Emmett’s mother, Mamie, had an open casket at his funeral and even had a photographer take a picture of his disfigured face and published it. There was no point in hiding it anymore. That’s what others wanted and Mamie knew it. These types of injustices happen because people chose to shield them from the public. One must wonder why those around Money helped Bryant and Milam. Maybe it’s because they knew Emmett was from Chicago and needed to be “taught a lesson.” It’s typical in America for those who are usually oppressed to help with the oppression by collaborating just as long as they’re treated a little better.

Studying the history of Jim Crow and segregation, it was bound to end like this. It would take a death like Emmett’s to put it into the homes of “Mainstream America.” And then, the kidnapping and murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in 1964 would help President Lyndon B. Johnson to push for Civil Rights actions. But it would take 67 years for Presidet Biden to sign the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in 2022 making lynching a federal crime.

But also, in 2022, we learned of a warrant for the arrest of “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the charge of kidnapping that had never been served. And another blow to Till’s family is when Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said there’s no new evidence to pursue a criminal case and a grand jury in LeFlore County declined to indict. Tyson said he had seen a copy of an unpublished memoir I Am More Than a Wolf Whistle that Bryant Donham had written and said that she was obviously involved in Emmett’s kidnapping and murder upon hearing that she had died.

“Condemning what Donham did is easier than confronting what America was — and is,” Tyson commented. And it’s easier for us to sympathize with a frail aging woman than a young vibrant person who more than likely was offended that someone she felt was beneath her would whistle at her. And playing the victim only proves that she knew what she was doing. She lived with a murderer for years. She allowed her children to be around this murderer. Bryant and Milam admitted what they did. To her, this was some gallant man defendering her honor.

She deserves no sympathy. And her family deserves no condolensces. I’m sure there’s at least one who is disgusted to be related to her. This is her legacy.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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