FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2023
Did Carolyn Bryant confess?: Carolyn Bryant played a role in one of the most heinous racial murders of the last American century.
Yesterday afternoon, online, the New York Times reported her recent death. We were a bit surprised by the way Margalit Fox's report started.
In this morning's print edition, Fox's report has been substantially changed. That said, here's the start of the original New York Times report.
Here's the report we read yesterday afternoon, as it still appears at the Buffalo News (and elsewhere) attributed to the Times.
Yesterday's original New York Times report:
Yesterday's online report by Margalit Fox started off like this:
FOX (4/27/23): Only two people knew exactly what happened during the minute they were alone together in the general store in Money, Miss., on Aug. 24, 1955. One, Emmett Till, a Black teenager visiting from Chicago, died four days later, at 14, in a brutal murder that stands out even in America's long history of racial injustice.
The other was Carolyn Bryant. She was the 21-year-old white proprietress of the store where, according to her testimony in the September 1955 trial of her husband and his half-brother for the murder, Till made a sexually suggestive remark to her, grabbed her roughly by the waist and let loose a wolf whistle.
Now Bryant, more recently known as Carolyn Bryant Donham, has died at 88. The Calcasieu Parish coroner's office confirmed the death of Bryant on Tuesday in Westlake, Louisiana.
The truth of what happened that August day may now never be clear. More than half a century after the murder, she admitted that she had perjured herself on the witness stand to make Till's conduct sound more threatening than it actually was—serving, in the words of the historian to whom she made the admission, as "the mouthpiece of a monstrous lie."
"She said with respect to the physical assault on her, or anything menacing or sexual, that that part isn't true," the historian, Timothy B. Tyson, told "CBS This Morning" in 2017.
But in an unpublished memoir that surfaced last year, Bryant stood by her earlier description of events, though she said she had tried to discourage her husband from harming Till.
That's how yesterday's report began. In that report, Bryant "admitted that she had perjured herself on the witness stand." She had done so while speaking to historian Timothy Tyson.
Bryant had admitted that she perjured herself. Later in yesterday's report, Fox reinforced that claim:
FOX: In 2008, Carolyn Bryant admitted that she had fabricated the most inflammatory parts of her testimony—the assertions that Till had grabbed her roughly around the waist and had uttered a sexual obscenity—at the behest of defense lawyers and her husband's family.
"You tell these stories for so long that they seem true," she told Tyson, a senior research scholar at Duke University, that year. "But that part is not true."
That interview became the foundation of Tyson's nonfiction book, "The Blood of Emmett Till" (2017). Its disclosure of Bryant's fabrication made headlines around the world.
That's the way the story was told in the original Times report. Yesterday afternoon, we were surprised by that account It seemed to us that the actual truth of the matter had been less clearcut than that.
This morning's revised New York Times report:
Yesterday afternoon, we were surprised by that original Times report.
This morning, Margalit Fox's report was featured on the front page of the hard-copy Times—but Fox's account of the matter at hand was substantially different now.
As of this morning, as of right now, the New York Times report says this, starting in paragraph 4:
FOX (4/28/23): With Mrs. Bryant’s death, the truth of what happened that August day may now never be clear. More than half a century after the murder, Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University historian who interviewed her, wrote that she had admitted to him that she had perjured herself on the witness stand to make Emmett’s conduct sound more threatening than it actually was—serving, in Dr. Tyson’s words, as “the mouthpiece of a monstrous lie.”
“She said with respect to the physical assault on her, or anything menacing or sexual, that that part isn’t true,” Dr. Tyson told “CBS This Morning” in 2017.
The publication of his book on the case, “The Blood of Emmett Till” (2017), prompted the Justice Department to reopen an investigation, in which it subpoenaed Dr. Tyson’s research materials. The federal authorities said Mrs. Bryant denied ever having changed her story, and they questioned Dr. Tyson’s claims, saying a tape recording of an interview that he had conducted with her, which he had provided to investigators, did not contain any sort of recantation. They closed the case in 2021 without bringing charges.
In an unpublished memoir that surfaced last year, Mrs. Bryant stood by her earlier description of events, though she said she had tried to discourage her husband from harming Emmett.
In the original Times report, we're explicitly told that Bryant admitted that she perjured herself. In the revised New York Times report, we're told that the Justice Department had questioned Tyson's account, noting that his tape recording didn't contain any such statement by Bryant.
Strange! In the original Times report, Bryant had confessed to perjury, full stop. Her confession of perjury was treated as an established fact.
Today's revised report is quite different. In today's report, an historian claimed that she made a confession, but the Justice Department seemed to have cast a great deal of doubt upon that claim.
Yesterday's report said one thing. Today's report said something different—or at least, so it seemed at first!
At first, it seemed like Margalit Fox had changed her account of this matter. But if you read deeper down in today's report, it seems that Fox has returned to her original story:
FOX: In 2008, after maintaining her long silence, Mrs. Bryant sought out Dr. Tyson: She had read and liked his 2004 book, “Blood Done Sign My Name,” a nonfiction account of the murder of a young Black man by whites in North Carolina in 1970. She wanted, she told him, to explain her side of the story.
Interviewed by Dr. Tyson at her home in Raleigh, Mrs. Bryant admitted that she had lied on the stand.
“About her testimony that Till had grabbed her around the waist and uttered obscenities,” Dr. Tyson wrote in 2017, “she now told me, ‘That part’s not true.’”
As for the rest of what transpired that night, the precise narrative had, with the passage of time, become unclear even to her.
“I want to tell you,” she told Dr. Tyson in their 2008 interview. “Honestly, I just don’t remember. It was 50 years ago.”
Just like that, we were back to the original account! Ignore what the Justice Department said! Once again, we're being told that Bryant "admitted that she had lied on the stand."
If you don't like the weather, just wait a while! So they sometimes say in New England.
It can work that way at the New York Times. If you don't like some account of the facts, just hang in there! Keep reading!