Carolyn Bryant Donham Dies at 88; Her Words Doomed Emmett Till

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A petite, attractive, dark-haired young woman, Carolyn won two high school beauty pageants. In 1951, at 16, she left school to elope with Mr. Bryant, a 20-year-old Army infantryman she had met at a party two years before.

“According to other family members I’ve talked to, Carolyn was a little bit different than the rest of them,” Devery S. Anderson, the author of “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement” (2015), said in an interview for this obituary in 2016. “They all married refined men — ‘gentlemen,’ as they refer to them — where Carolyn was attracted to the bad boys, of which Roy Bryant was one.”

Settling in Money, a tiny Delta town, the couple ran Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, which catered mainly to Black sharecroppers. By 1955 they had two sons, Roy Jr., 3, and Thomas Lamar, 2. The family lived in rooms at the rear of the store.

Emmett Till, known to friends and family as Bobo, arrived in Mississippi by train on Saturday, Aug. 20, or Sunday, Aug. 21, 1955 (accounts differ as to the precise date). By the 21st, he had settled in at the home of a great-uncle, Moses Wright, near Money.

On the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 24, Emmett drove with a group of local Black teenagers to the Bryants’ store. Among them were 18-year-old Ruthie Mae Crawford, who years later spoke of having been able to see Emmett through the store’s plate-glass window the whole time, and Simeon Wright, Till’s 12-year-old cousin.

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