By: Davis Houck
After nearly 16 years living in exile in East Texas and Western Louisiana, Roy Bryant moved back to the Delta with his wife, Carolyn, and children in 1973.
They settled in Ruleville and eventually this modest home. As he’d done in Money, Bryant operated a small grocery store in Ruleville along Highway 49 that catered mostly to a black clientele. When it burned to the ground in 1989, Bryant took to selling watermelon and other fruit along the side of the road. When he was asked to pose for a picture next to a haul of watermelon by a local journalist, Bryant refused. He explained that since he was nearly blind from years of welding, he wasn’t supposed to be driving. He also told the same journalist, who worked for the Indianola Enteprise-Tocsin, that he “really didn’t have a choice” when it came to murdering Emmett Till; after all, the boy had hit the trip wire of Southern race relations by insulting his wife, and thus his own imperiled masculinity.
While living in Ruleville in 1983, Bryant was convicted of food stamp fraud and was sentenced to three years’ probation and a $750 fine. Four years later, Bryant was once again convicted of food stamp fraud and was sentenced to prison where he served eight months. His sister, Mary Louise Bryant Campbell, whose husband Melvin Campbell was involved in Till’s kidnap and murder according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was also convicted in the food stamp scheme. Campbell was later pardoned of the offense by President William Jefferson Clinton on January 20, 2001. Why President Clinton would issue a pardon to a petty thief 13-years after her conviction, and who had intimate ties to the Emmett Till murder, remains elusive.
Bryant and his first wife, Carolyn, divorced in 1979; she cited marital abuse as a cause for the dissolution. Roy Bryant married Vera Jo Orman in 1980 and the couple was married for nearly 14 years when Roy died on September 1, 1994. Orman passed away in 2012. As of 2015, Carolyn Bryant lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, near her son Thomas Lamar Bryant.
In 2007, a Leflore County grand jury refused to indict Carolyn Bryant for her involvement in the Till kidnap and murder, effectively closing the investigation. While Bryant has never publicly spoken of her role in the case, her family steadfastly claims that she tried to protect Emmett Till from the harm that would come his way on August 28, 1955.