The Wrongful Accusation of Emmett Till and Its Legacy

Recently, there are a lot of articles that talk about or relate to the case of Emmett Till, who was lynched and disfigured after being accused of flirting with a white woman. In the article, “Simeon Wright, Witness to Abduction of Emmett Till, Dies at 74,” Wright’s memoir of Till gives a primary source to the truth of such history. As other previous historians, most articles were trying to correct and justify the wrongful accusation, and amplify the degree of racial discrimination in the U.S. However, what I think is more important is not the defense or clarification of such unjust result, but the fact that, the white women, Carolyn Bryant Donham, who confessed that her allegation of Till’s sexual assault to her was not true.

This makes me wonder what makes Donham decide to tell the truth? Why did it take this long time for her to confess that her allegation was wrong? Does the change of her testimony justify that our society has achieved some liberal goals so that a white segregationist could recognize her fault? What if Emmett Till did not die, but put into a prison, would she still tell the truth? I think what is so valuable about her confession is not only reinforcing the accusation was wrong, but also providing evidence to the white audience that an innocent boy was killed because of their discrimination. It provides a space for the white population to ponder what had happened in the history very frankly and nakedly.

However, Donham’s claim not only gives a window for today’s society to judge the racial morality of the past, but also provides an example of a false accusation that killed an innocent person. In a more recent case, Bill Cosby was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman, Andrea Constand, at his home 14 years ago. Interestingly, his publicist compared his conviction to the plight of Emmett Till claiming that this is a “public lynching.” Such connection to the case of Till, to me, really gives me a new thought to today’s testimony. Since when are all people honest? The usage of history by the publicist, in this case, is really effective. History is a living entity. What we learn from it can be applied greatly in our daily lives.


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