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Emmett Till would be 79 today; the White woman who lied on him remains free

Photo by Eddy “Precise” Lamarre for Steed Media Service

Emmett Till should be celebrating his 79th birthday today, surrounded by the love of his children, grandkids, and other family members and friends. However, Till never got a chance to attend a prom, graduate high school and college, build a career, or start a family, because he was another Black victim of racial violence.

In 1955, Till, who lived in Chicago, was visiting his family in Mississippi when he and his cousin went to a store. At some point, Till went inside of the store alone while Carolyn Donham was at the register. After about one minute, Till left the store.

According to an interview with Donham conducted by Vanity Fair, she lied and told her husband that Till touched her hand, made a suggestive comment, and whistled at her while he was in the store. Till’s cousin Simeon Wright, who was at the store, said that it would not have been impossible for Till to do such things during the short period of time he was inside.

But Donham’s husband, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, believed her lie and snatched Till from his family home. Till was tortured and executed by Bryant and Milam. Both men were acquitted of the crime but later admitted to committing the crime in an interview by saying Till needed to be taught a lesson.

Donham should face the lesson of paying for a crime that she helped to commit. Her words led to the torture and execution of a teenage boy. She was an accomplice to a murder.

In Mississippi, being an accomplice to murder has a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. At 83, Donham should be arrested and forced to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Authorities have yet to reveal if Donham will face charges. She has written a memoir about the death of Till and her involvement that cannot be released until 2038.