‘Women of the Movement’: Carolyn Bryant Donham Petition to Charge Her as An Accomplice in Emmett Till’s Murder Continues to Gain Signatures

As viewers the Jay-Z and Will Smith produced limited series, Women of the Movement on ABC, they want to know more about Carolyn Bryant Donham (portrayed by Julia McDermott). Although she admitted the truth to a journalist in 2007, the now 87-year-old woman was never charged. The 6-part historical drama tells the true story of Emmett Till’s brutal murder and the trial that found J. W. Milam (Chris Coy) and Roy Bryant (Carter Jenkins) not guilty by an all-white jury. The Women of the Movement cast stars Adrienne Warren as Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. Although the series is a drama, it is devastatingly accurate to the real-life events in Money, Mississippi, in 1955.

'Women of the Movement' cast member Julia McDermott portraying Carolyn Bryant Donham
‘Women of the Movement’: Julia McDermott | ABC/James Van Evers

Emmett Till Legacy Foundation asks ‘Women of the Movement’ viewers to sign the petition against Carolyn Bryant Donham

In January 2021, the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation began a petition to charge Carolyn Bryant Donham as an accomplice in the 66-year-old murder case. The nonprofit organization was created in 2005 to “preserve the memory and legacy of Emmett Louis Till.”

“As you watch “#WomenOfTheMovement “tonight and #LetTheWorldSee at 9 pm CST, you can make a difference!” the Foundation tweeted. “Please sign the #JusticeForEmmettTill petition to Charge the last living accomplice #CarolynBryantDonham with the kidnapping and murder of #EmmettTill.”

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As of Jan. 20, 2022, the petition has 112,230 signatures and it continues to grow. Actor Taye Diggs tweeted news about Till and the foundation on Jan. 14 that helped the foundation gain more signatures and followers.

‘Women of the Movement’: Carolyn Bryant Donham’s testimony swayed the jurors

In ABC’s Women of the Movement, viewers watch Emmett Till innocently talk to Carolyn Bryant in a local store in Money, Mississippi, in 1955. His friends dare Emmett to ask her out on a date in the dramatization. A few days later, Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, kidnap, torture, and kill Emmett Till. The 14-year-old boy’s mother insists on an open casket, and the NAACP helps to broadcast the awful news across the country. 

Later in Women of the Movement Episode 5, while on the stand, Carolyn testifies that Emmett grabbed her hand and wouldn’t let go. She added that he chased her down, blocked her path, and clutched her waist tightly. Although the judge in the case does not allow the jury to hear the testimony, it gets back to the jurors. In the final episode of Women of the Movement, an all-white jury finds the defendants “not guilty,” despite witness testimonies that place the men at the scene of the crime.

Carolyn Bryant Donham told the truth in 2007

Timothy B. Tyson’s 2017 book, The Blood of Emmett Till, details his interview with Carolyn Bryant Donham in 2007 (long before Women of the Movement was created). She invited him to her home to deliver the manuscript and her unpublished memoir to the correct archive for future scholars. 

“They’re all dead now anyway,” Tyson recalls Bryant Donham saying somewhat to herself before beginning the interview. Her ex-husband, Roy Bryant, died on Sept. 1, 1994. J. W. Milam died on Dec. 31, 1980. They spoke about her 1955 testimony during the interview that “Till had grabbed her around the waist and uttered obscenities.” 

“That part’s not true,” Bryant Donham told Tyson. 

However, when he asked her to elaborate, the woman could not recall what had happened.

Tyson secured the hand-written notes of what Bryant said to her attorney the day after the arrest in 1955. Bryant admitted that Till had “insulted” her but not grabbed her or attempted to rape her in this earlier version.

“I want to tell you,” she said. “Honestly, I just don’t remember. It was fifty years ago. You tell these stories for so long that they seem true, but that part is not true.” 

Justice Department closed the cold case on Emmett Till

According to the New York Times, on Dec. 6, 2021, the Department of Justice announced that there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against Carolyn Bryant Donham. The DOJ reopened the case after the 2017 book release; however, Donham denied changing her story. Because of the denial and the statute of limitations, the DOJ reported not pursuing charges.  

All six of ABC’s Women of the Movement episodes are available for streaming on Hulu on Jan. 21, 2022.

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