Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till


On September 22, Mrs. Roy Bryant took the stand. One newspaper described her as "black haired, brown-eyed, shapely and slender." The New York Times called her a "pretty brunette." Just 21 years old at the time, Carolyn Bryant knew her testimony would be very important to her husband. But prosecutors wanted her entire testimony excluded because they were aware that a Mississippi jury could well find cause for murder if a Southern woman was accosted by a black male. As a precaution, Judge Swango ordered the jury removed during testimony and reserved decision on the matter.

Carolyn said that she was alone in the store on August 24 when she saw a group of blacks out front on the porch. She saw one of the boys come into the store and ask for some bubble gum. When she gave him the gum, the boy grabbed her hand, she said.

"He said 'How about a date baby?' He caught me at the cash register and put both hands on my waist," she said. Carolyn spoke very softly during her time on the stand and kept her head turned down as if she were ashamed of what had happened. "He said 'What's the matter baby, can't you take it? You needn't be afraid of me! I've been with white women before." Carolyn testified that she tried to get away but the boy blocked her and prevented her from moving. "This other Negro came in and caught his arm and took him out," she told the court.

As the boy's friend pulled Till out of the store, Carolyn said she ran outside to get a handgun that she knew was in her husband's car. As she did, she said she saw the boy out front. "He whistled," she said. She described it as the "wolf whistle." When she approached the front of the store, gun in hand, she saw the boy driving away in the car with his friends. Carolyn said the boy was "about five feet six inches and weighed about 150 pounds." She knew all of the blacks in Money and so she was able to tell the court that the boy was not from around town. "I was just scared to death," she said.

One of the defense attorneys made it a point to ask her, "Did you have any white men around to protect you?"

"No," Carolyn replied, "Mr. Bryant took a load of shrimp and gone down to Brownsville, Texas."

When she was excused, Carolyn quietly got up, walked off the stand and took her place next to her husband. Their two children jumped up onto her lap as she kissed Roy briefly. The jury looked at the Bryants, who seemed to be just like any of them; a family struggling against the many pressures of the Mississippi delta.

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