by Elijah C. Watson
Vanity Fair published a story that tells of how author Timothy Tyson came to talk with Carolyn Bryant Donham for his forthcoming book, The Blood of Emmett Till.
Donham, the woman who was at the center of Emmett Till‘s death back in 1955, admitted to Tyson in 2007 that her testimony against Till was fabricated. “That part’s not true,” Donham had said in regards to her remarks when she claimed Till had made physical and verbal advances on her.
The Vanity Fair piece goes on to say that Donham “felt tender sorrow” throughout her years, essentially painting the now 82-year-old woman as the antithesis of the 21-year-old that incited one of the most horrific race-related deaths in the history of America.
Does Donham deserve forgiveness for her admittance? Should we turn the other cheek like we have been taught to do time and time again, in the face of someone who fails to do the same for us?
Absolutely. 100. Percent. Fucking. Not.
Two weeks prior to the Donham reveal came the announcement of Dylann Roof‘s sentencing to death, following his shooting of a Charleston church that left nine people dead. Still, even as Roof remained remorseless throughout the trial, many of the families of those slaughtered forgave him.
Black people in America have been conditioned to patiently wait for accountability — for justice. We grow weary throughout the years, never knowing if we are going to witness it in our lifetime, never gaining closure that has weighed on us in ways that most people could never, ever fathom.
We have also been conditioned to forgive people who are undeserving of our forgiveness; that fail to see that just like them all we want is an acknowledgment of our humanity — our existence.
Donham was able to absolve herself of the situation. Following her courtroom testimony she disappeared into obscurity for decades, and was able to witness her children grow up as she continued on with normal life.
Mamie Till never received the same opportunity — same privilege. Instead, she was greeted by the battered and beaten body of her dead 14-year-old son. Her pained and tearful face; her son’s bloated and bloody face — those two faces are hard to remove from one’s mind once seen. Mamie and Emmett will forever be immortalized in black pain — faces that reflect an ongoing fight in this country against bigotry and hate — two words that, in the rise of the Trump presidency, have made a resurgence.
Last year, America witnessed a woman livestream her boyfriend die right before her eyes, after a police officer fatally shot him.
This year, we have seen a resurgence of interest in Kalief Browder, the teenager who was wrongly accused of robbery and served three years at Rikers Island awaiting trial under the abusive hand of guards. He ultimately took his own life two years after being released.
As black people, we wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, for justice. For the people who have wronged us to finally come forth and hold themselves accountable, because it is that that leads to true progress.
However, I have no sympathy for Donham. I have no sympathy for a person that knowingly accused someone of something he never did, only to admit it more than 60 years later. I have no sympathy for a grown woman who jeopardized the life of a teenage boy and vilified his humanity. I have no sympathy for a woman who was able to retreat from the consequences of her actions, while a mother had to not only face the hate and vitriol of an entire nation, but saw her son become an involuntary martyr for a movement bigger than himself, when all she wanted for him was for him to have a chance at life.
Carolyn Bryant Donham does not deserve forgiveness, her late admittance necessary to the fiber of this country’s racist history, but not atonement to an incident that never, ever needed to happen.