`page.data.shortTitle || page.data.title`
Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till
Pictures & Records
Add your story…
Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till (July 25, 1941 %u2013 August 28, 1955) was an African-American teenager from Chicago, Illinois who died in what has been characterized as a "brutal murder" in a region of Mississippi known as the Mississippi Delta in the small town of Money in Leflore County. His murder was one of the key events that energized the nascent American Civil Rights Movement. The main suspects were acquitted but later admitted to committing the crime. Till's mother had an open casket funeral to let everyone see how her son had been brutally killed. He had been shot and beaten; he was then thrown into the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound cotton gin fan tied to his neck with barbed wire as a weight. His body stayed in the river for three days until it was discovered and retrieved by two fishermen.
Emmett Till was the son of Mamie Till and Louis Till. Emmett's mother was born to John and Alma Carthan in the small Delta town of Webb, Mississippi ("the Delta" being the traditional name for the area of northwestern Mississippi, at the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers). When she was two years old, her family moved to Illinois. Emmett's mother largely raised him on her own; she and Louis Till had separated in 1942.
Emmett's father, Louis Till, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. While serving in Italy, he was convicted of raping two Italian woman and killing a third. He was executed by the Army by hanging near Pisa in July 1945. Before Emmett Till's killing, the Till family knew none of this, only that Louis had been killed due to "willful misconduct". The facts of Louis Till's execution were only made widely known after Emmett Till's death, by segregationist senator James Eastland, in an apparent attempt to turn public support away from Mrs. Till just weeks before the trials of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the implication being that criminal behavior ran in the Till family.
In 1955, Till and his cousin were sent for a summer stay with Till's great-uncle, Moses Wright, who lived in Money, Mississippi (another small town in the Delta, eight miles north of Greenwood).
Before his departure for the Delta, Till's mother cautioned him to "mind his manners" with white people.
Till's mother understood that race relations in Mississippi were very different from those in Chicago. The state had seen many lynchings during the South's lynching era (ca. 1876-1930), and racially motivated murders were still not unfamiliar, especially in the "Delta" region where Till was going to visit. Racial tensions were also on the rise after the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education to end segregation in public education.
Till arrived on August 21. On August 24, he joined other teenagers as they went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to get some candy and soda. The teens were children of sharecroppers and had been picking cotton all day. The market was owned by a husband and wife, Roy Bryant and Carolyn Bryant, and mostly catered to the local sharecropper population. Till's cousin and several black youths, all under 16, were reported to have been with Till in the store.
Depending on who tells the story, as Till was leaving the store, he either whistled at or physically assaulted and propositioned Carolyn Bryant. She stood up and stormed to her car. The boys were terrified thinking she might return with a pistol and ran away. The news of this greatly angered her husband when he heard of it upon his return from out of town several days later.
Till's cousin, Wheeler Parker, Jr., who was with him at the store, claims Till did nothing but whistle at the woman. "He loved pranks, he loved fun, he loved jokes ... in Mississippi, people didn't think the same jokes were funny." Carolyn Bryant later asserted that Till had grabbed her at the waist and asked her for a date. She said the young man also used "unprintable" words. He had a slight stutter and some have conjectured that Bryant might have misinterpreted what Till said.
By the time 24-year-old Roy Bryant returned from a road trip three days after his wife's encounter with Till, it seemed that everyone in Tallahatchie County had heard about the incident, in every conceivable version. Bryant decided that he and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, 36, would meet around 1:00 a.m. on Sunday to "teach the boy a lesson."
At about 12:30 a.m. on August 27, Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Emmett Till from his great-uncle's house in the middle of the night. According to witnesses, they drove him to a weathered shed on a plantation in neighboring Sunflower County, where they brutally beat him. The fan around his neck was to weigh down his body, which they dropped into the Tallahatchie River near Glendora another small cotton town, north of Money.
The brothers and police tried to convince the people that Emmett Till was in Chicago and that the beaten boy was someone else, but the only way that he was recognized was by the ring on his finger that had been his father's. His mother had given it to him the day before he left for Money. The brothers were soon under official suspicion for the boy's disappearance and were arrested August 29 after spending the night with relatives in Ruleville, just miles away from the scene of the crime.
Both men admitted they had taken the boy from his great-uncle's yard but claimed they turned him loose the same night. Word got out that Till was missing and soon NAACP civil rights leader Medgar Evers, the state field secretary, and Amzie Moore, head of the Bolivar County chapter, became involved, disguising themselves as cotton pickers and going into the cotton fields in search of any information that would help find the young visitor from Chicago.
After collecting stories from ordinary blacks first hand, Amzie Moore, a Delta civil rights veteran and member of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and the NAACP, asserted that whites had murdered and lynched over the years "more than 2,000" blacks and thrown their bodies into the Delta’s swamps and bayous.
Some supposed that relatives of Till were hiding him out of fear for the youth’s safety or that he had been sent back to Chicago where he would be safe.
Moses Wright, a witness to Till's abduction told the Sheriff that a person who sounded like a woman had identified Till as "the one" after which the men had driven away with him. Bryant and Milam claimed they later found out Till was not "the one" who allegedly insulted Mrs. Bryant, and swore to Sheriff George Smith they had released him. They would later recant and confess after their acquittal.
In an editorial on Friday, September 2, Greenville journalist Hodding Carter, Jr..asserted that "people who are guilty of this savage crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," a brave suggestion for any Mississippi newspaper editor to make.
After Till's horribly disfigured body was found, he was put into a pine box and nearly buried, but Mamie Till wanted the body to come back to Chicago. A Tutwiler mortuary assistant worked all night to prepare the body as best he could so that Mamie Till could bring Emmett's body back to Chicago.
The Chicago funeral home had agreed not to open the casket, but Mamie Till fought it, and after the state of Mississippi would not allow the funeral home to open it, Mamie threatened to open it herself, insisting she had a right to see her son. After viewing the body, she also insisted on leaving the casket open for the funeral and allowing people to take photos because she wanted people to see how badly Till's body had been disfigured. News photographs of Till's mutilated corpse circulated around the country, notably appearing in magazine, drawing intense public reaction. Some reports indicate up to 50,000 people viewed the body.
Emmett Till was buried September 6 in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. The same day, Bryant and Milam were indicted by a grand jury.
When Mamie Till came to Mississippi to testify at the trial, she stayed in the home of Dr. T.R.M. Howard in the all-black town of Mound Bayou. Others staying in Howard's home were black reporters, such as Cloyte Murdock of Ebony Magazine, key witnesses, and Congressman Charles Diggs of Michigan, the first chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Howard was a major civil rights leader and fraternal organization official in Mississippi, the head of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), and one of the wealthiest blacks in the state.
On the day before the trial, Frank Young, a black farm worker, came to Howard's home. He said that he had information indicating that Milam and Bryant had help in their crime. Young's allegations sparked an investigation that led to unprecedented cooperation between local law enforcement, the NAACP, the RCNL, black journalists, and local reporters. The trial began on September 19. Mose Wright, Emmett's great-uncle, was one of the main witnesses called up to speak. Pointing to one of the suspected killers, he said "Dar he," to refer to the man who had killed his nephew.
Another key witness for the prosecution was Willie Reed, an 18-year-old high school student who lived on a plantation near Drew, Mississippi in Sunflower County. The prosecution had located him because of the investigation sparked by Young's information. Reed testified that he had seen a pickup truck outside of an equipment shed on a plantation near Drew managed by Leslie Milam, a brother of J.W. and Roy Bryant. He said that four whites, including J.W. Milam, were in the cab and three blacks were in the back, one of them Till. When the truck pulled into the shed, he heard human cries that sounded like a beating was underway. He did not identify the other blacks on the truck.
On September 23 the jury, made up of 12 white males, acquitted both defendants. Deliberations took just 67 minutes; one juror said they took a "soda break" to stretch the time to over an hour "to make it look good." The hasty acquittal outraged people throughout the United States and Europe and energized the nascent Civil Rights Movement.
Aftermath of the Trial
Even during the trial, Howard and black journalists such as James Hicks of the Baltimor Afro-American named several blacks who had allegedly been on the truck near Drew including three employees of J.W. Milam: Henry Lee Loggins, Levi 'Too-Tight' Collins, and Joe Willie Hubbard. In the months after the trial, both Hicks and Howard called for a federal investigation into charges that Sheriff H.C. Strider had locked up Collins and Loggins in jail to keep them from testifying.
In a January 1956 article in Look Magazine for which they were paid $4,000, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant admitted to journalist William Bradford Huie that he and his brother had killed Till. They did not fear being tried again for the same crime because of the Constitutional double jeopardy protection. Milam claimed that initially their intention was to scare Till into line by pistol-whipping him and threatening to throw him off a cliff. Milam claimed that regardless of what they did to Till, he never showed any fear, never seemed to believe they would really kill him, and maintained a completely unrepentant, insolent, and defiant attitude towards them concerning his actions. Thus the brothers said they felt they were left with no choice but to fully make an example of Till. The story focused exclusively on the role of Milam and Bryant in the crime and did not mention the possible part played by others in the crime.
In February 1956 Howard's version of events of the kidnapping and murder, which stressed the possible involvement of Hubbard and Loggins, appeared in the booklet Time Bomb: Mississippi Exposed and the Full Story of Emmett Till by Olive Arnold Adams. At the same time a still unidentified white reporter using the pseudonym Amos Dixon wrote a series of articles in the California Eagle. The series put forward essentially the same thesis as Time Bomb but offered a more detailed description of the possible role of Loggins, Hubbard, Collins, and Leslie Milam. Time Bomb and Dixon's articles had no lasting impact in the shaping of public opinion. Huie's article became the most commonly accepted version of events.
In 1957 Huie returned to the story for Look Magazine in an article which indicated that local residents were shunning Milam and Bryant and that their stores were closed due to a lack of business.
Milam died of cancer in 1980 and Bryant died of cancer in 1994. The men never expressed any remorse for Till's death and seemed to feel that they had done no wrong. In fact, a few months before he died, Bryant complained bitterly in an interview that he had never made as much money off Till's death as he deserved and that it had ruined his life. Mamie (as Mamie Till Mobley) outlived them, dying at the age of 81 on January 6, 2003. That same year her autobiography Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America (One World Books, co-written with Christopher Benson) was published.
In 1991, a seven-mile stretch of 71st street in Chicago was renamed "Emmett Till Road," after the slain boy
In 2001, David T. Beito, associate professor at the University of Alabama and Linda Royster Beito, chair of the department of social sciences at Stillman College, were the first investigators in many decades to track down and interview on tape two key principals in the case: Henry Lee Loggins and Willie Reed. They were doing research for their biography of T.R.M. Howard. In his interview with the Beitos, Loggins denied that he had any knowledge of the crime or that he was one of the black men on the truck outside of the equipment shed near Drew. Reed repeated his testimony at the trial that he had seen three black men and four white men (including J.W. Milam) on the truck. When asked to identify the black men, however, he did not name Loggins as one of them. The Beitos also confirmed that Levi 'Too-Tight' Collins, another black man allegedly on this car, had died in 1993.
In 1996, Keith Beauchamp started background research for a feature film he planned to make about Till's murder, and asserted that as many as 14 individuals may have been involved. While conducting interviews he also encountered eyewitnesses who had never spoken out publicly before. As a result he decided to produce a documentary instead, and spent the next nine years creating The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. The film led to calls by the NAACP and others for the case to be reopened. The documentary included lengthy interviews with Loggins and Reed, both of whom the Beitos had first tracked down and interviewed in 2001. Loggins repeated his denial of any knowledge of the crime. Beauchamp has consistently refused to name the fourteen individuals who he asserts took part in the crime, including the five who he claims are still alive.
On May 10, 2004, the United States Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the case to determine whether anyone other than Milam and Bryant was involved. Although the statute of limitations prevented charges being pursued under federal law, they could be pursued before the state court, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officials in Mississippi worked jointly on the investigation. As no autopsy had been performed on Till's body, it was exhumed on May 31, 2005 from the suburban Chicago cemetery where it was buried, and the Cook County coroner then conducted the autopsy. The body was reburied by relatives on June 4. It has been positively identified as that of Emmett Till.
In February 2007, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that both the FBI and a Leflore County Grand Jury, which was empaneled by Joyce Chiles, a black prosecutor, had found no credible basis for Keith Beauchamp's claim that 14 individuals took part in Till's abduction and murder or that any are still alive. The Grand Jury also decided not to pursue charges against Carolyn Bryant Donham, Roy Bryant's ex wife. Neither the FBI nor the Grand Jury found any credible evidence that Henry Lee Loggins, now living in an Ohio nursing home, and identified by Beauchamp as a suspect who could be charged, had any role in the crime. Other than Loggins, Beauchamp still refuses to name the 14 people who he says were involved although the FBI and District Attorney have completed their investigations of his charges and he is free to go on the record. A story by Jerry Mitchell in the Clarion-Ledger on February 18 describes Beauchamp's allegation that 14 or more were involved as a "legend."
The same article also labels as "legend" a rumor that Till had endured castration at the hands of his victimizers. The castration theory was first put forward uncritically in Beauchamp's "Untold Story" although Mamie Till-Mobley (Emmett's mother) had said in an earlier documentary directed by Stanley Nelson, "The Murder of Emmett Till," (2003) that her son's genitals were intact when she examined the corpse. The recent autopsy, as reported by Mitchell, confirmed Mobley-Till's original account and showed no evidence of castration.
In March 2007, Till's family was briefed by the FBI on the contents of its investigation. The FBI report released on March 29, 2007 found that Till died of a gunshot wound to the head and that he had broken wrist bones and skull and leg fractures.
Read FBI Report and Trial Transcript: http://www.emmetttillmurder.com/
The federal government is hoping that dead men can tell tales. Investigators unearthed the body of Emmett Till Wednesday in suburban Chicago hoping to find some information that will help them in the reopened murder case. Till, 14, was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi in a case that galvanized the civil rights movement.
Frank Bochte, an FBI spokesman, explained the reason for exhuming Till's body. %u2018One purpose of this is to positively identify the remains and dispel any rumors as to whether it is truly Emmett Till or not,' Frank Bochte said. He added the investigators wanted to 'see if any further evidence can be looked at to help Mississippi officials bring additional charges if warranted.'
The case became reopened after new information became available. Documentary filmmaker Keith Beauchamp was a key figure in obtaining the new information for investigators.
Till was kidnapped from his uncle's Money, Mississippi farm on August 28, 1955. The 14-year-old boy was abducted for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Three days later, his mutilated remains were found in the Tallahatchie River.
Till's mother had an open casket at his funeral so that her son's mutilated remains could be seen by the entire nation as a symbol of the oppression blacks faced in the Jim Crow south at that time.
Two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were later tried for the murder but acquitted by an all-white jury. They later confessed to the murder in an interview with %u2018Look' magazine. Both of them are now dead but the FBI believes others who may have assisted Bryant and Milam may still be alive and can be brought to justice.
She was born Mamie Carthan on November 23, 1921, in a small town near Webb, Mississippi, the only child of John and Alma Carthan. Ironically, she was born just two miles from the town of Sumner, where the trial of her son's killers would one day be held.
Her father wanted to leave the South and the cotton fields, and made plans soon after his daughter was born. He found work in the small industrial town of Argo, Illinois, near Chicago, at the Argo Corn Products Refining Company.
Alma Carthan joined her husband in January 1924, and brought their two-year-old daughter Mamie with her. They settled in a predominately black enclave in Argo where everyone knew each other. But Mamie's world was shattered at age 13 when her parents divorced. A bright girl and a good student, Mamie buried herself in her schoolwork.
A Strict Mother
Mamie's mother, a member of the fundamentalist Church of God in Christ, was strict. She had high hopes for her only child. "In my day, the girls had one ambition -- to get married. Very few kids finished high school," Mamie would recall. But her parents encouraged her to finish. Mamie was the first black student to make the A Honor roll, and the fourth black student to graduate from the predominately white Argo Community High School.
"My mother always had been a firm disciplinarian and she kept me to a rigid code of conduct," she said. "I wasn't allowed to run around with the gang and I had to give strict account for my whereabouts outside of school." Every year, Mamie would return to Mississippi to visit relatives. She would spend the steamy summers with an aunt and socialize with other kids at church picnics.
When she turned 18, she met a fellow from Madrid, Missouri named Louis Till. He worked at the Argo Corn Company, was an amateur boxer, and was popular with many women. But Louis Till had his eye on Mamie. When they met, he took her to an ice cream parlor for her first banana split. Her parents disapproved, thinking the charismatic Till was "too sophisticated" for their daughter. At her mother's insistence, she broke off their courtship. But the persistent Till won Mamie's heart, and they married on October 14, 1940. Both were 18 years old.
Nine months later, their only child, Emmett Louis Till, nicknamed "Bobo," was born at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. The boy was the apple of his mother and grandmother's eyes. Aside from a bout with polio at age five, after which Emmett would speak with a mild stutter, he was a healthy and happy boy.
Emmett would never know his father, who was shipped out to Europe as an Army private. Mamie and Louis Till separated in 1942. Three years later, Mamie received a letter from the Department of Defense informing her, without a full explanation, that Till was killed in Italy due to "willful misconduct."
By the early 1950s, Mamie and Emmett had moved to Chicago's South Side. Both of her parents had remarried and left Argo, her mother to Chicago and her father to Detroit. Mamie met and married Gene "Pink" Bradley, but they divorced two years later.
A Terrible Burden
In 1955 Mamie decided to take a long-awaited vacation to Nebraska to visit relatives. She wanted her son to go with her. But Emmett was set on joining his cousins and spending the end of the summer in Mississippi. When she put her son on a Southbound train, it was the last time she would see him alive.
When her boy was killed, Mamie turned to the strength of her family and faith. "When I began to make the announcement that Emmett had been found and how he was found, the whole house began to scream and to cry. And that's when I realized that this was a load that I was going to have to carry. I wouldn't get any help carrying this load."
Horrified by the mutilation of her son's body yet determined that it would not happen again, Mamie made a stunning decision -- Emmett would have an open casket funeral. "I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till," she said. Some 50,000 people streamed in to view Emmett's corpse in Chicago, with many people leaving in tears or fainting at the sight and smell of the body.
After two of her son's killers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were acquitted of murder, the Till case became an international cause clbre with news articles and editorials across the country and in Europe condemning the verdict and Mississippi. With the international firestorm, the NAACP, black leaders and Mamie were hopeful that Milam and Bryant would at least be punished for kidnapping. But just weeks before the grand jury met, Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland, a staunch segregationist and plantation owner, dug up information on Louis Till's past and leaked it to the press.
The U.S. Army had executed Private Till in Italy in 1945 for raping two Italian women and killing a third. The insinuation: Emmett's behavior ran in the family. On November 9, 1955, a Mississippi grand jury refused to indict Milam and Bryant on kidnapping charges. Both men were free.
No Government Help
Mamie turned to the federal government for help, to no avail. She had not received her ex-husband's Army records, and she asked how a senator, but not a widow, receive that information? She also tried to meet with President Dwight Eisenhower, but he refused. And FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote in a memo: "There has been no allegation made that the victim [Emmett Till] has been subjected to the deprivation of any right or privilege which is secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States..."
Taking the Fight to the People
Thousands of letters protesting the Mississippi verdict poured into the White House. Mamie took her fight to the people and gave speeches to overflowing crowds across the country. Blacks were galvanized. Membership in the NAACP soared. African Americans were angered by Emmett's killing and the injustice, and moved by the loss of an only child to a young mother. Those in the trenches of the civil rights movement realized they had to move their fight boldly to the front lines. In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery city bus and was arrested for violating Alabama's bus segregation laws. Soon after, a 26-year-old minister, Martin Luther King Jr. called for a city-wide bus boycott. The civil rights movement was officially born.
More than thirty years passed before Emmett Till's story would find renewed national interest, becoming the subject of scholarly research and publication. Filmmaker Stanley Nelson interviewed Mamie, other family members, journalists, and eyewitnesses who remembered what had happened in Mississippi so long ago, and by 2002, Mamie was working on her own memoir. But in a sad turn of events, just two weeks before the national television premiere of The Murder of Emmett Till, Mamie Till Mobley died of heart failure in a Chicago hospital. She was 81 years old.
Emmmitt Till Law Moves in House
This week, as the House Oversight committee jousted angrily over the guilt or innocence of a Bush appointee and as the Senate sparred over an energy bill, members of the House Judiciary Committee came together to advance a bill that seeks to provide closure to the family members of men like Till, many of whom are still alive and hopeful for justice.
The bill, called the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, is a clean piece of legislation that will do exactly what its official heading says: It will create "an Unsolved Crimes Section in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and an Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Investigative Office in the Civil Rights Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
To do that, it authorizes $10 million annually to federal agencies, which will be tasked with unearthing cold cases from the civil rights era and investigating them fully.
There are nearly 100 stale cases that will immediately benefit from the bill's provisions and hundreds more that could potentially be brought back to life. Rita Schwerner Bender, whose husband Michael was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan for registering black voters in Mississippi, points out that there have been 518 unsolved lynchings in Mississippi since 1955. As evidence has withered and witnesses have all but disappeared, many of those cases desperately require the sort of help that the so-called "Till Bill" will offer once signed into law.
The hearings this week weren't without moments of politicking. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) asked one witness whether the bill would help solve cases of black on white violence. The answer is that it will in theory, but that in spirit%u2014and likely in practice%u2014it will not. That low moment was redeemed by Pence himself when, moments later, he recounted the story of his own awakening to the viciousness of that era%u2014of attending a church in the South built by a community of devoutly religious people who had somehow justified to themselves the idea that the same church should be segregated. As he told it, he held back tears.
The bill, first conceived by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), didn't go anywhere in the 109th Congress. But everybody%u2014congressmen, senators, aides and observers%u2014seems confident that this time around it will sail through.
"This bill upholds the integrity of the judicial system and ensures that those guilty of civil rights crimes will finally be held accountable," says Caroline Frederickson, ACLU's Washington director. "We are encouraged that the House and Senate Judiciary Committees voted in favor of the bill, and we strongly urge their colleagues to do the same when it comes to the floor."
If they do follow suit, then stories like this one might not be so unusual in the months to come.
The hearings this week weren't without moments of politicking. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) asked one witness whether the bill would help solve cases of black on white violence. The answer is that it will in theory, but that in spirit%u2014and likely in practice%u2014it will not. That low moment was redeemed by Pence himself when, moments later, he recounted the story of his own awakening to the viciousness of that era%u2014of attending a church in the South built by a community of devoutly religious people who had somehow justified to themselves the idea that the same church should be segregated. As he told it, he held back tears.
The bill, first conceived by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), didn't go anywhere in the 109th Congress. But everybody%u2014congressmen, senators, aides and observers%u2014seems confident that this time around it will sail through.
"This bill upholds the integrity of the judicial system and ensures that those guilty of civil rights crimes will finally be held accountable," says Caroline Frederickson, ACLU's Washington director. "We are encouraged that the House and Senate Judiciary Committees voted in favor of the bill, and we strongly urge their colleagues to do the same when it comes to the floor."
If they do follow suit, then stories like this one might not be so unusual in the months to come.
Cold Case: The Murder of Emmett Till
People in the Chicago neighborhood where Emmett "Bobo" Till lived knew the 14-year-old as an attention-getter. Despite the stutter left by a bout with polio in his infancy, he had a confident, even cocky, personality and relished pranks and jokes. In an interview that appeared in the PBS documentary, The Murder of Emmett Till, childhood acquaintance Richard Heard recalled how Emmett entertained his schoolmates one day in gym: "I remember Emmett raising his shirt up to about his navel and making his belly roll, waves of fat rolling and it just broke us up. The whole gym went crazy."
In early August 1955, Emmett's great-uncle, Moses "Preacher" Wright, traveled to Chicago from Mississippi and asked Emmett's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, if her son could spend the summer with his family. Wright also invited two of Emmett's Chicago cousins to come on the trip.
Mamie agreed to let Emmett go but worried about how he would behave in the South. Although Chicago was racially segregated, its racism was not of the Jim Crow stripe.
Chris Crowe in Getting Away with Murder quotes Mamie saying, "Emmett was born and raised in Chicago, so he didn't know how to be humble to white people. I warned him before he came down here; I told him to be very careful how he spoke and to say 'yes sir' and 'no ma'am' and not to hesitate to humble himself if he had to get down on his knees . . . I was trying to really pound into him that Mississippi was not Chicago . . . I explained to Emmett that if he met a white woman, he should step off the street, lower his head, and not look up. And he thought that was the silliest thing he'd ever heard."
Mamie may have been especially protective of Emmett because he was her only child and she had long been raising him on her own. She had divorced his father, Louis Till, in 1943, when Emmett was only 2. In 1945, she received word that Louis Till, a private in the military serving overseas, had died. Sent along with the letter informing her of his death was one of his prized possessions: a signet ring with his initials, "L.T." Mamie gave that ring to Emmett right before she kissed him goodbye for his visit to Mississippi.
Emmett and his cousins arrived in Money, a hamlet in the Mississippi Delta with only 55 residents on Sunday, Aug. 21, 1955.
Three days later, on a Wednesday evening, Emmett and his cousins were in church listening to Moses Wright preach. Restless and bored, the boys made an early exit from the church, took Wright's car, and drove to Bryant's Grocery & Meat Market.
The Murder of Emmett Till describes Bryant's as a store that sold candy and provisions, primarily to blacks. Roy Bryant, 24, and Carolyn Bryant, 21, a white couple, owned and operated it. As the documentary states, "The Bryants lived with their two boys in cramped rooms behind the store." The Bryants owned neither a car nor a TV. They were unable to eke out a living from the store alone so Roy frequently took trucking jobs.
On this particular day, Roy was on the road, hauling a load of shrimp from New Orleans to Brownsville, Tex. According to "The Shocking Story of An Approved Killing in Mississippi" by William Bradford Huie that was published in Look magazine in January 1956, when Roy was absent, Carolyn and their sons did not spend the night in the rooms behind the store. Juanita Milam, her sister-in-law, would come to the store during the day to stay with Carolyn until the store closed at which time her husband would pick both women up, together with their kids, and drive them to his home.
Outside of Bryant's, Emmett and his cousins joined a group of young blacks already gathered there. Emmett was soon bragging about his romantic success with white women and flashing photos of white women, he had in his wallet, bragging that they were his "girlfriends." According to Crowe, Emmett and his cousins had cut photos of white women out of magazines and put them in the compartments of their wallets for precisely this purpose.
Crowe continues, "one of the boys pointed at the store and challenged Emmett: 'You talkin' mighty big, Bo. There's a pretty little white woman in there in the sto'. Since you Chicago cats know so much about white girls, let's see you go in there and get a date with her."
Emmett went into Bryant's while the others crowded around its window to watch the interaction. The account of what happened next is pieced together from the courtroom testimony of Carolyn Bryant and the recollections of those who watched through the window.
Carolyn Bryant claimed the teenager requested two cents worth of gum and that, when she held her hand out for the payment, he grabbed her hand and brashly asked, "How about a date, baby?" She jerked her hand away and headed to the apartment at the back of the store to summon her sister-in-law. According to Carolyn Bryant's account, before she could get to that apartment, the boy stepped in front of her and put his hands around her waist, saying, "You needn't be afraid of me, baby, I've been with white women before."
The store's door flew open and another black male rushed inside, grabbed Emmett and hustled him out the door, but before they left, Emmett said, "Bye, baby." Carolyn left the store to get a gun from her sister-in-law's car. According to Emmett's friends as well as Carolyn Bryant, Emmett let out a wolf whistle – a whistle that would turn out to be the most infamous in the history of civil rights. Then he and his friends piled into the pickup and sped off.
Stephen J. Whitfield in A Death in the Delta writes that Carolyn Bryant confided the story of the incident to her sister-in-law. Both women agreed to keep quiet because they feared what their husbands might do if they knew about it.
While Carolyn Bryant and Juanita Milam kept silent, Emmett's amazed young friends did not. Soon just about everyone in Money had heard about it.
When Roy Bryant came home from his Texas trip on Saturday, a black customer at his store told him of the encounter that was the talk of the town. Bryant was infuriated. He asked his wife about it. According to Crowe, she confirmed the truth of it but begged him to let it pass.
Bryant learned that Emmett was staying at his great-uncle's home and decided to confront the boy. Lacking a car, he asked his 36-year-old balding half brother, J.W. "Big" Milam, Juanita's husband, if he could borrow one. When Bryant explained what he wanted it for, Milam insisted on accompanying him. Each man brought along a .45 Colt revolver.
According to both Crowe and Whitfield, a loud call at the door awakened Moses Wright in the wee hours that Sunday morning. Wright went to the door to find Milam and Bryant standing there. Milam carried his pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other. He demanded to see "the boy who done the talking at Money."
Wright pleaded with them to leave the boy alone, saying, "He ain't got good sense. He was raised up yonder. He didn't know what he was doing." Wright's wife Elizabeth joined her husband and said they would "pay you gentlemen for the damages," but Milam brushed aside her desperate offer.
All accounts say that before leaving the home, Milam asked Wright how old he was. Wright said he was 64. "If you tell anybody about this, you won't live to get 65," Milam warned.
Wright later testified that the boy was "marched" to a car where someone was asked if he was the "right boy" and a woman's voice answered, "It is."
One of Emmett's cousins, Curtis Jones, rushed to a neighbor's house to use the phone to call the county sheriff to report the abduction. Then he called his own mother in Chicago who in turn called Emmett's mother. Mamie Till-Mobley phoned Chicago police and asked them to ask their Mississippi counterparts to find her son's kidnappers. Crowe records her as recalling, "I began calling every newspaper I could think of . . . I had expected no response from the newspapers, but to my surprise, everyone I called responded instantly."
Bryant and Milam were arrested for kidnapping the following day, a Monday. They admitted forcing the boy away from his home but claimed they let him go after Carolyn Bryant said he was not the one who had offended her. The two men stayed in jail while police searched for Emmett.
Crowe writes that on the following Wednesday, Aug. 31, 17-year-old Robert Hodges was fishing on the Tallahatchie River when he was shocked by what looked like a human body. He contacted the Tallahatchie County sheriff's office.
Fearing it was the body of the missing child, officers took Moses Wright to the river with them. A ferocious beating and days underwater had rendered the corpse's face unrecognizable, but it had a ring bearing the inscription "May 25, 1943, L.T." Crowe wrote, "Mose Wright recognized it as the ring of Louis Till, Emmett's father, a ring that Emmett had worn."
Murder charges were filed against the jailed Bryant and Milam.
Emmett's body was shipped to Chicago for burial. The mutilated body was displayed under glass at the Roberts Temple Church of God. As Mamie Till related in an interview shown in The Murder of Emmett Till, she wanted to "let the people see what I've seen . . . everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till." About 50,000 African-Americans massed into the church to look at the dead child. Many burst into tears; some fainted. The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, and Jet, a national black magazine, ran photographs of Emmett's disfigured face.
Much of the country viewed this slaying as symbolic of racism's evil. As Whitfield wrote, an outraged Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, observed, "It would appear that the state of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children."
Journalist Rose Jourdain recalled for The Murder of Emmett Till, "I think black people's reaction was so visceral. Everybody knew we were under attack and that attack was symbolized by the attack on a 14-year-old boy."
Whitfield records that while some white Southerners were horrified that their region had been the cradle for this dreadful homicide, others were swept by a wave of sympathy for men they regarded as defending the "Southern way of life." Many derided the "outside agitators" they blamed for the burgeoning civil rights movement as well as the prosecution of Bryant and Milam.
The Trial in Sumner
Bryant and Milam were tried in the city of Sumner, the county seat of Tallahatchie County. As Whitfield notes, there were only five attorneys practicing law in Sumner, but sympathy for the accused men was so strong among whites that all five attorneys agreed to defend the impoverished defendants pro bono. Leading the defense team was J. J. Breland, whom Crowe quotes as saying that he and his co-attorneys wanted to "let the North know that we are not going to put up with Northern Negroes 'stepping over the line.'"
Crowe further quotes Breland as telling The Greenwood Commonwealth, "The state has got to prove three things: That the boy was murdered. That it happened in the second judicial district of Tallahatchie County. That Bryant and Milam did it."
D.A. Gerald Chatham was the lead prosecutor. Mississippi Assistant Atty. Gen. Robert B. Smith assisted him.
The judge was Curtis M. Swango. An all-white, all-male jury was impaneled.
The trial opened Sept. 19, 1955.
Dozens of journalists descended on Sumner, including reporters from the Daily Worker, The Nation, the African-American Amsterdam News, and the New York Post. Whitfield reports that their courtroom seating was assigned according to race. White reporters sat close to the judge and jury while their black counterparts, along with Emmett's mother, sat at a distant bridge table.
U.S. Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. of Michigan came to the trial to observe it. Whitfield records how James Hicks, a reporter for the Amsterdam News and the National Negro Press Association headed for the bench to secure Rep. Diggs a place in the courtroom. Whitfield elaborates that a deputy stopped him and asked him his mission. The first deputy called a second to whom he said, "This nigger said there's a nigger outside who says he's a Congressman."
"A nigger Congressman?" the second deputy asked incredulously before bursting into laughter. The deputies summoned their boss, Sheriff Clarence Strider, who told Hicks, "I'll bring him in here, but I'm going to sit him at you niggers' table."
The Murder of Emmett Till reports that Sheriff Strider habitually greeted the journalists and Rep. Diggs throughout the trial with a cheery, "Hi, niggers."
The state's first witness was Moses Wright. Whitfield writes that he told the court how two men had come to his house early on that fateful Sunday. One said, "This is Mr. Bryant" and told Wright they wanted to see "the boy who done that talk at Money."
Asked to identify the two men he had seen, Wright pointed to Milam, then to Bryant and said, "Thar he."
Crowe writes that in cross-examination, defense attorney Sidney Carlton suggested it unlikely Wright could positively identify men he had seen only in darkness.
Sheriff George Smith of nearby Greenwood testified that Bryant confessed to the kidnapping. Undertaker Chester Miller and Officer C.A. Stickland testified to the horrendous state of Emmett's body when it was recovered.
Perhaps the most moving testimony was that of Mamie Till-Mobley. Chatham asked if she was certain the horribly mutilated body was that of her son. She replied, "Yes, sir, positively." She described painstakingly examining his feet, hands, teeth, gums, and hairline. "A mother knows her child," she said. "I just looked at it very carefully, and I was able to find out that it was my son, Emmett Louis Till." Crowe records the following courtroom exchange.
[Chatham] asked her if she could identify the body in the photo. She looked at it and nodded. "That's my son, my son, Emmett Till." Her voice broke, and she took off her glasses to wipe away tears.
"Are you sure?" Chatham asked.
"If I thought it wasn't my boy, I would be out looking for him now."
Mamie Till recalled for The Murder of Emmett Till how the defense suggested she conspired in an elaborate scheme to pretend her son had been murdered. She was asked if it was not true that she had plotted with the NAACP to dig up a body, throw it in the river, and then pretend it was Emmett for political purposes. "Isn't it true," a defense attorney prodded, "that your son is in Detroit, Michigan with his grandfather right now?"
Willie Reed, 19, a sharecropper's son, testified that on that Sunday, he saw four white men and two black men drive to a barn on property owned by Milam's brother Leslie. Crowe recorded that he claimed, "The two black men rode in the back of the pickup with Emmett Till. When the truck stopped, the men carried Emmett into the barn from where Willie later heard screams and 'licks and hollerings.'"
On cross-examination, Reed admitted that he had not seen Milam in the truck.
According to Whitfield, Reed's aunt, Amanda Bradley, "also testified to hearing the beating from the shed."
Whitfield further writes that Lefore County Sheriff George Smith testified that Bryant had confessed to kidnapping Emmett but claimed he had released him alive and unharmed. Deputy Sheriff John Edd Cothran testified to a similar confession from Milam.
Then the defense began. It called Carolyn Bryant to the stand. Whitfield states that "Over the objections of the defense," Judge Swango sent the jury out while she testified. The judge ruled that he believed the store incident occurred too long before the abduction for it to be legally admissible. Carolyn Bryant told the story recounted earlier in this article to the judge, attorneys, spectators and reporters.
With the jury back, the defense called Sheriff H.C. Strider to the stand. According to Crowe, "Strider testified that based on his previous experience, the body found in the Tallahatchie River on Aug. 31 had been missing for at least 10 to 20 days. He said the corpse was so decomposed that it was impossible for him to recognize the victim or even determine if the body was black or white."
An African-American reporter noted that it was odd that if the sheriff was unsure of the victim's race, why had he asked a black undertaker to treat the body.
Another doctor and an embalmer both testified that the victim had been dead for over a week before his body was found.
In their summations before the jury, both the prosecution and the defense appealed to the jurors as fellow segregationists. Prosecutor Smith urged the jury to prove wrong those who thought Mississippi's racial policies meant it condoned murder. Smith said, "I tell you, gentlemen, that Emmett Till was entitled to his constitutional rights; he was entitled to his liberty, and once we go taking away his rights, then we are on the defensive and we can't complain what people do to us. Those people, outside agitators, want J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant turned loose."
Defense attorney John Whitten argued, "There are people in the United States who want to destroy the custom and way of life of Southern white people and Southern colored people. . . . They would not be above putting a rotting, stinking body in the river in the hope it would be identified as Emmett Till."
The trial was over in five days. On Sept. 23, 1955, the jury – after 67 minutes of deliberations – came back with verdicts of not guilty for both defendants. (One juror told a journalist that the jury would not have taken even that long had the jurors not interrupted their deliberations to drink soda pop.) A photograph taken in the immediate aftermath of the verdict shows the defendants and their wives smiling and hugging; Roy Bryant is chomping on a recently lit cigar.
Kidnapping charges were still pending but a grand jury refused to return indictments. On Nov. 9. Milam and Bryant were set free.
According to The Murder of Emmett Till, a European newspaper commented that, "the life of a Negro in Mississippi is not worth a whistle." The program continued that African-Americans packed meeting rooms to hear Mamie Till's story. The grieving mother told an assembled crowd: "What I saw was a shame before God and man and the way the jury chose to believe the ridiculous stories of the defense attorneys. I just can't go into detail to tell you the silly things, the stupid things that were brought up as probabilities and they swallowed it like a fish swallows a hook, just anything, any excuse to acquit these two men." Whitfield writes that Roy Wilkins denounced the trial as "a travesty, a farce, a joke as far as it demonstrated the American principle of trial by jury to secure a just verdict."
The injustice galvanized the civil rights movement. Crowe notes that Mamie Till and Moses Wright had spoken to more than 250,000 people by the end of 1955. Just over three months after Emmett Till's death, seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger, leading to Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous Montgomery bus boycott. According to Whitfield, Parks "acknowledged the impact of the Till case in arousing blacks to indignation." The success of the Montgomery bus boycott led to similar and similarly successful protests in other major cities.
Milam and Bryant Confess
All sources report that Milam and Bryant were ostracized after the trial. Blacks boycotted the small stores that the extended Milam and Bryant families owned in Money, Glendora, and Sharkey so that all three quickly went out of business. Even segregationist whites, who supported Bryant and Milam during the trial, shunned them after it. Their inability to get jobs led them to grant interviews for $4,000 to reporter William Bradford Huie in which they purported to tell the truth of Till's death. (Constitutional protection against double jeopardy meant they could not be prosecuted again for the slaying. Attorneys for Milam and Bryant were in the room when they gave the interviews to Huie.) The January 1955 Look magazine published Huie's "The Shocking Story of An Approved Killing in Mississippi."
The confessions should be taken as proof that Milam and Bryant got away with murder but cannot be assumed to be completely accurate. Huie recalled, "Milam did most of the talking . . . Milam was a bit more articulate than Bryant was. Bryant did some talking, particularly when they talked about what they were told had happened in the store."
Milam told Huie that when they rousted Emmett Till out of bed on the night of Saturday, Aug. 15, 1955 their intention was to "whip him . . . and scare some sense into him." Milam continued that they planned to drive him to a bluff over the Big River that Milam considered "the scariest place in the Delta." The "whipping" planned was no spanking but a pistol-whipping with the threat of being thrown down the bluff and into the Big River.
They drove about 75 miles but Milam could not find that bluff in the darkness. He claimed that they also could not intimidate their captive. "We were never able to scare him," Milam said. "They had just filled him so full of that poison that he was hopeless."
After driving to the tool house in back of the Milam home, Milam and Bryant told Huie that they took Emmett in there and began pistol whipping him. According to his killers, the 14-year-old boy remained defiant even after vicious blows to his head from a .45. "You bastards, I'm not afraid of you," Emmett supposedly told them. "I'm as good as you are. I've 'had' white women. My grandmother was a white woman."
Milam claimed he felt he had to murder Emmett. "I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice," he said. "As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place . . . And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin.'" Milam decided to murder the 14-year-old and sink his body into the Tallahatchie River. Needing a weight to drag the body down, he remembered a big discarded fan at a gin in which he had recently installed new equipment.
The captors ordered the badly bruised Emmett back into the truck. They drove to the Progressive Ginning Company. "When we got to that gin, it was daylight," Milam recalled, "and I was worried for the first time. Somebody might see us and accuse us of stealing the fan."
They claimed in the interview with Huie that they forced Emmett, who was strong for his age, to pick up the 75-pound fan and load it into the truck. Then they drove to the Tallahatchie River and stopped beside a riverbank. Milam ordered Emmett to pick up the fan. The child staggered under its weight.
Milam ordered Emmett to take off his clothes. It was a little before 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. Milam claimed the following exchange took place.
Milam: "You still as good as I am?"
Milam: "You still 'had' white women?"
With that, Milam shot Emmett in the head. He fell to the ground. Milam and Bryant tied the fan to his neck and rolled him into the water.
Parts of this account defy credibility. Anyone who was pulled out of bed in the middle of the night by menacing people with guns would have to be disoriented and terrified and it is not believable that a teenager, however spunky, would have shown no fear under the circumstances. Rather, it is more likely that Milam and Bryant described their victim as fearless and defiant because they believed such an attitude would justify the murder in the eyes of their peers.
They do not mention anyone else with them but it is likely there were others.
Moses Wright testified he heard a woman in the car identify Emmett. Many observers believe this must have been Carolyn Bryant. Willie Reed testified to seeing four white men and two black men in the truck in which Emmett was driven to his death.
After the trial, bitterly ironic information about the father Emmett had never known, Louis Till, came to light. It was already widely reported that Louis Till had been a soldier in World War II at the time of his death. An Oct. 10, 1955 editorial in Life magazine wrote that the elder Till "was killed in France fighting for the American proposition that all men are equal."
Army Private Louis Till did not die honorably in combat. The American military executed him for raping two Italian women and murdering a third.
Some saw a chance to visit the sins of the father upon the son. On Oct. 15, 1955, next to a story titled "Till's Dad Raped 2 Women, Murdered a Third in Italy," the Jackson Daily New ran an editorial accusing the NAACP of raising "fabulous sums of money" based in part on the claim that Private Till had died fighting for his country. The editorial went on to tell "the Negro organizations . . . to stop peddling manufactured stories to the nation about Mississippi and about their own people."
Filmmakers Open the Closed Case
The Till case continued to send reverberations through society as years passed and the civil rights movement gained momentum. However, there was a persistent, gnawing sense of frustration on the part of Mamie Till-Mobley and others because justice had been thwarted.
The story of Emmett Till retained the ability to traumatize decades after the fact. According to an article entitled "Documentarian Keith Beauchamp Reveals the Truth about the Lynching of Emmett Till," Beauchamp was a 10-year-old African-American boy living in Baton Rouge, La., when he first learned of Emmett Till. It was 26 years after the acquittal of Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam. Beauchamp happened to be leafing through old copies of Jet when the famous photograph of Emmett's mutilated remains arrested his gaze. The sight of a boy only four years older than himself murdered in such a grisly manner left Beauchamp badly shaken.
"I'm looking at this angelic face of a 14-year-old," he recalled, "and I'm looking at this horrific face beside it that looked like a monster, and I could not believe that a little boy could be brutally murdered for just a whistle."
As Beauchamp grew up, he was frequently warned not to let what had happened to Emmett Till happen to him. He knew other young African- American men who received similar warnings. In an article called "Murder He Wrote," Sara Faith Alterman quotes Beauchamp as stating, "The Emmett Till case is very deeply embedded in the African-American male psyche; it was something that was mentioned to me all the time, to teach me that racism still existed in America."
Alterman writes that Beauchamp has said that the horror suffered by Till was brought home to him in a most personal way when he went out to a nightclub with friends one evening in 1989 and danced with a white woman. A bouncer accosted him. Then another man dragged Beauchamp outside and started roughing him up. The stranger was an undercover police officer and arrested Beauchamp. In "Documentarian," Beauchamp recalled that at the station, "They tied me to a chair, pistol-whipped me, all kind of stuff." He was asked for his identification. Beauchamp told Alterman that he was released only when the detective on duty realized that he a close friend of the son of a major with the sheriff's department.
As a young adult, Beauchamp studied criminal justice at Southern University, but left before getting a degree to work with New York friends who owned a production company. He worked on music videos, and then was offered a chance to produce his own feature film.
The Emmett Till case was his natural subject. Beauchamp devoted nine years to researching what would become The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, a documentary released by THINKFilm and Till Freedom Come Productions in 2005. Alterman writes that Beauchamp started his research in a library where he assiduously read microfilm of archived articles connected to the case. What he found astonished and dismayed him. The pieces named witnesses that the authorities had never even bothered to question and possible participants who had never been charged. Alterman quotes Beauchamp, "It was very strange that you have all of this overwhelming evidence that was just there, and nobody ever took the time to go back and research all of that stuff."
Beauchamp was especially impressed by a series of articles published by James Hicks in 1955 in the Cleveland Call and Post. In these articles, later gathered by Christopher Metress in The Lynching Of Emmett Till, Hicks recounts his own investigation of the Till case while the trial was in progress. Both Moses Wright and Willie Reed testified to seeing black men in the truck with Emmett Till.
Hicks was determined to discover who those men were and believed he did. However, he discloses, "I did not write it in Mississippi for fear of bodily harm to myself, and to my colleagues." Early on in his investigation, a clearly frightened African-American woman offered a tip. She told him that a young man called "Too Tight" was in the truck and that he had since disappeared from the area. She suggested he go to "the only colored dance hall in town" to learn Too Tight's real name. Hicks followed her suggestion and visited a tavern called King's.
At King's, Hicks writes that he posed as "a drifting guy who had dropped in for a beer." He asked, "Whatever happened to my boy Too Tight?" The manager of King's stopped and stared. A group of men playing cards dropped them and turned to look at Hicks. Hicks "grabbed [the manager] by the arm and moved over in a direction away from [the card players] and nearer the kitchen." The manager asked what he wanted with Too Tight and Hicks replied that Too Tight was a friend of his. The manager told him that Too Tight was in jail.
When Hicks inquired as to what Too Tight was jailed for, the manager referred him to a woman seated nearby. Hicks asked the woman for a dance. As they twirled around, they exchanged pleasantries, then Hicks asked about Too Tight. She confirmed that Too Tight was in jail, but claimed she did not know why. She told Hicks that Too Tight had been residing with her and her boyfriend, Henry Lee Loggins, with whom she was cohabiting. She said Loggins was also in jail but did not know what he was charged with either, then added: "Both of them worked for one of those white men who killed that boy from Chicago and they came and got both of them." She said Too Tight's real name was Leroy Collins.
In researching the Till case, Beauchamp met Mamie Till-Mobley. The 24-year-old filmmaker and the then 74-year-old bereaved mother forged a strong friendship. In an article Beauchamp wrote called "The Murder of Emmett Louis Till: The Spark that Started the Civil Rights Movement," he stated, "Our relationship would soon blossom and sculpt me into the man that I have become today. Her charisma, wisdom and perseverance will always be a part of me."
According to "Who Killed Emmett Till?" an article by Rebecca Segall and David Holmberg in The Nation, Feb. 3, 2003 "Special Assistant to the Atty. Gen. Jonathan Compretta agreed to have a conference call on Jan. 6  with Beauchamp, Mamie Till-Mobley and Alvin Sykes, president of the Justice Campaign of America, as a possible first step [to re-opening the case]. Unfortunately, Mamie Till-Mobley died that very day of heart failure, on the eve of a visit to Atlanta for an appearance with Beauchamp."
Beauchamp traveled to Mississippi in his quest for the truth. According to Alterman, "He tracked down the people he had read about who allegedly witnessed the crime, but found they were reluctant to speak out. Many were African-Americans from the Delta who had kept silent for decades, afraid of meeting a similar persecution if they revealed what they knew about the people who brutally murdered a 14-year-old boy."
Eventually, Beauchamp was able to persuade several witnesses to speak frankly with him and even to tell their stories on camera for The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. Almost half of a century after the events, some witnesses apparently remained fearful. Ruthie Mae Crawford, a cousin of Emmett who saw the incident in Bryant's store from the window, allowed her name to be used and spoke on camera but only in shadow.
Mamie Till-Mobley, interviewed in The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, asserts that several people helped murder her son: "I know that Milam and Bryant had help when they murdered Emmett Till." She also stated that an African-American man, Leroy "Too Tight" Collins, was seen on the truck restraining Emmett.
Another interviewee who appears on camera in shadow, "Willie," backs up her assertion about Collins, claiming to have seen him and another man washing out blood from the truck. Willie says they told him the blood was from a deer.
"Justice, Delayed But Not Denied," a magazine article published at the CBS News website on Oct. 21, 2004, reports, "Beauchamp said that after reviewing thousands of old documents and talking to numerous witnesses with knowledge of the crime, he believes that at least 14 people may have been involved in the kidnapping and murder of Till and that five of them are still alive." According to an email from Beauchamp to this writer, Leroy "Too Tight" Collins died several years ago.
"Justice, Delayed But Not Denied" elaborates that the current Justice Department investigation focuses primarily on two individuals. One of them is the previously mentioned Henry Lee Loggins, one of two local black men jailed shortly after Till's murder. Now in his 80s and living in Ohio, Loggins vociferously denies he played any part in the crime.
Loggins spoke to Beauchamp and he appears in The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. He claims he was not involved in the killing of Till and knows nothing about it except what he has heard. However, Beauchamp says that witnesses have identified him as the black man on the truck with Collins and that FBI reports state that he was involved in it.
The other person whose role is being closely examined is Carolyn Bryant. According to "Justice, Delayed But Not Denied," she is now in her 70s, goes by the name Carolyn Donham, and lives in Greenville, Miss.
In the commentary section of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, Beauchamp reveals, "I discovered in the course of my research that a warrant was made out for Carolyn Bryant in 1955 but it was never served." Beauchamp hopes she will be charged and tried because he feels certain that she was present when Emmett was abducted and that she identified him.
Another filmmaker, Gode Davis, who worked on a documentary about lynching, claims to have uncovered information about two other white men who participated in the Till murder. Segall and Holmberg in their article in The Nation about Emmett Till quote Davis as saying that he interviewed a white man who claimed involvement in the crime and that this man knew the identity of another white man who may have been involved. The article also states that Davis said he had contact with a white named Billy Wilson who claimed to have been a witness but not a participant. Beauchamp, however, reports having a copy of a 1970 story in the Mississippi Southern Patriot in which a man named Billy Wilson was said "by blacks to brag about being one of the killers of Emmett Till in 1955 in Money, Miss."
Following a 22-month FBI investigation, The U.S. Justice Department re-opened the Emmet Till case on May 10, 2004 by turning over more than 8,000 pages of information about the case to Joyce Chiles, the district attorney for the 4th Circuit Court District of Mississippi. In 2007, Chiles sought a manslaughter charge against 73-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the widow of one of the two confessed killers. On Feb. 26, a grand jury in Leflore County declined to issue any new indictments. The Till case, for all intents and purposes, is now officially closed.
Solving Cold Cases
Cold cases are notoriously difficult to solve. Memories and witnesses become extremely vulnerable to cross-examination. Principals die. Physical evidence gets misplaced or thrown out.
A few major cold cases have been successfully prosecuted. One of the most significant was the June 12, 1963 murder of prominent civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who had been publicly investigating the murder of Emmett Till at the time he was shot. In the interview with Mamie Till-Mobley shown in The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, she says Evers attended the trial every day, looked for witnesses, and escorted Moses Wright to and from the courtroom.
Ku Klux Klansman Byron De La Beckwith was arrested for the murder of Medgar Evers on June 23, 1963. He was tried twice before all-white juries that deadlocked, allowing him to go free.
Thirty years after his second trial, De La Beckwith was brought to trial for a third time in 1994. New evidence about statements he had made bragging about the murder was entered into this trial before a racially mixed jury that convicted him. He died in prison in 2001.
This intriguing story of belated justice was made into a movie released in 1996 and called The Ghosts of Mississippi that starred Alec Baldwin as Bobby DeLaughter, the prosecutor, James Woods as De La Beckwith, and Whoopi Goldberg as Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers.
According to "'Justice can't just forget' civil rights era killings [.pdf]," an article by Bob Kemper published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sept. 13, 2006, interest in several unsolved cases from the civil rights era has been renewed. The article discusses a few of them. One is that of Georgia couples George and Mae Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcom who were believed to have been pulled from a car on July 25, 1946 by a white mob and then beaten to death. Their murders were in apparent retaliation for Roger Malcom's having cut a white farmer with a knife a few days earlier. Another case mentioned by Kemper is that of Jimmy Lee Jackson who was fatally shot by police during a voter registration demonstration in Marion, Ala.
Kemper notes, "Congress is weighing whether to create special cold-case units at the Justice Department and FBI that, with a $5 million annual budget, would exclusively focus on unsolved killings from the civil rights era."
While there are major problems with prosecuting cold cases, there are advantages to pressing those specifically of the civil rights era. As Kemper writes, "Once-terrified witnesses and relatives of suspects are increasingly willing to reveal what they know."
None of those cases is more notorious than that of Emmett Till whose death struck a chord with so many people, including the martyred Medgar Evers. Decades after Evers's murder, a measure of justice was meted out to his murderer. No such justice awaits Emmett Till.
by Denise Noe
Burr Oak Cemetery
Murdered August 27th 1955
"The hate crime that changed America"
It was the darkest day of July 2001; Perpetua had just acquired Chicago Burr Oak Cemetery.
The property had been neglected for years. The grounds were overgrown and out of control. The tractors and trucks were old and junky. The office was in a deplorable state, disorganized and dirty. The staff greeted customers from behind bullet proof glass. And there had been no form of professional management anywhere near the property.
Most would have just decided that there was no hope for this property. Most would have done what previous owners had done for so many years%u2013just take the cash and not improve the place. But Slivy Edmonds Cotton, president of Perpetua, decided to step up to the plate and immediately began making improvements to the property.
Finally a ray of light had shown itself to Chicago Burr Oak Cemetery.
Early on, Perpetua developed a relationship with Ms. Mamie Till-Mobley. Before her death in 2003, Ms. Mobley committed to lead the way in developing the Emmett Till Historical Museum at Chicago Burr Oak. This Museum honors and reflects Ms. Mobley's vision and will feature the Emmett Till Story, and the story of many other African-Americans who have made contributions to our community and to the world.
This museum will include a mausoleum which will house Emmett's remains, as well as those of his mother and step-father.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the structure are scheduled to take place in the spring of 2005. You can contribute to this great cause by sending your tax-deductible donation to:
Chicago Burr Oaks Cemetery
Emmett Till Historical Museum
4400 West 127th
Alsip, IL 60803
For more information, please contact
Carolyn Towns at 773-233-5676
This article is the infamous confession of J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant to the kidnapping and killing of Emmett Till. Reporter William Bradford Huie reportedly paid the men $4000 for their story. It appeared in Look 20 (24 January 1956): 46%u201350.
Disclosed here is the true account of the slaying in Mississippi of a Negro youth named Emmett Till.
Last September in Sumner, Miss., a petit jury found the youth's admitted abductors not guilty of murder. In November, in Greenwood, a grand jury declined to indict them for kidnapping.
Of the murder trial, the Memphis Commercial Appeal said: "Evidence necessary for convicting on a murder charge was lacking." But with truth absent, hypocrisy and myth have flourished. Now, hypocrisy can be exposed; myth dispelled. Here are the facts.
Carolyn Holloway Bryant is 21, five feet tall, weighs 103 pounds. An Irish girl, with black hair and black eyes, she is a small farmer's daughter who, at 17, quit high school at Indianola, Miss., to marry a soldier, Roy Bryant, then 20, now 24. The couple have two boys, three and two; and they operate a store at a dusty crossroads called Money: post office, filling station and three stores clustered around a school and a gin, and set in the vast, lonely cotton patch that is the Mississippi Delta.
Carolyn and Roy Bryant are poor: no car, no TV. They live in the back of the store which Roy's brothers helped set up when he got out of the 82nd Airborne in 1953. They sell "snuff-and-fatback" to Negro field hands on credit: and they earn little because, for one reason, the government has been giving the Negroes food they formerly bought.
Carolyn and Roy Bryant's social life is visits to their families, to the Baptist church and, whenever they can borrow a car, to a drive-in, with the kids sleeping in the back seat. They call Shane the best picture they ever saw.
For extra money, Carolyn tends store when Roy works outside -- like truck driving for a brother. And he has many brothers. His mother had two husbands, 11 children. The first five -- all boys -- were "Milam children"; the next six -- three boys, three girls -- were "Bryant children."
This is a lusty and devoted clan. They work, fight, vote and play as a family. The "half" in their fraternity is forgotten. For years, they have operated a chain of cottonfield stores, as well as trucks and mechanical cotton pickers. In relation to the Negroes, they are somewhat like white traders in portions of Africa today; and they are determined to resist the revolt of colored men against white rule.
On Wednesday evening, August 24, 1955, Roy was in Texas, on a brother's truck. He had carted shrimp from New Orleans to San Antonio, proceeded to Brownsville. Carolyn was alone in the store. But back in the living quarters was her sister-in-law Juanita Milam, 27, with her two small sons and Carolyn's two. The store was kept open till 9 on week nights, 11 on Saturday.
When her husband was away, Carolyn Bryant never slept in the store, never stayed there alone after dark. Moreover, in the Delta, no white woman or group of white women ever travels country roads after dark unattended by a man.
This meant that during Roy's absences -- particularly since he had no car -- there was family inconvenience. Each afternoon, a sister-in-law arrived to stay with Carolyn until closing time. Then, the two women, with their children, waited for a brother-in-law to convoy them to his home. Next morning, the sister-in-law drove Carolyn back.
Juanita Milam had driven from her home in Glendora. She had parked in front of the store to the left; and under the front seat of this car was Roy Bryant's pistol, a .38 Colt automatic. Carolyn knew it was there. After 9, Juanita's husband, J. W. Milam, would arrive in his pickup to shepherd them to his home for the night.
About 7:30 p.m., eight young Negroes -- seven boys and a girl -- in a '46 Ford had stopped outside. They included sons, grandsons and a nephew of Moses (Preacher) Wright, 64, a 'cropper. They were between 13 and 19 years old. Four were natives of the Delta, and others, including the nephew, Emmett (Bobo) Till, were visiting from the Chicago area.
Bobo Till was 14 years old: born on July 25, 1941. He was stocky, muscular, weighing about 160, five feet four or five. Preacher later testified: "He looked like a man."
Bobo's party joined a dozen other young Negroes, including two other girls, in front of the store. Bryant had built checkerboards there. Some were playing checkers, others were wrestling and "kiddin' about girls."
Bobo bragged about his white girl. He showed the boys a picture of a white girl in his wallet; and to their jeers of disbelief, he boasted of his success with her.
"You talkin' mighty big, Bo," one youth said. "There's a pretty little white woman in the store. Since you know how to handle white girls, let's see you go in and get a date with her?"
"You ain't chicken, are yuh, Bo?" another youth taunted him.
Bobo had to fire or fall back. He entered the store, alone, stopped at the candy case. Carolyn was behind the counter; Bobo in front. He asked for two cents' worth of bubble gum. She handed it to him. He squeezed her hand and said: "How about a date, Baby?"
She jerked away and started for Juanita Milam. At the break between counters, Bobo jumped in front of her, perhaps caught her at the waist, and said: "You needn't be afraid o' me, Baby. I been with white girls before."
At this point, a cousin ran in, grabbed Bobo and began pulling him out of the store. Carolyn now ran, not for Juanita, but out the front, and got the pistol from the Milam car.
Outside, with Bobo being ushered off by his cousins, and with Carolyn getting the gun, Bobo executed the "wolf whistle" which gave the case its name:
THE WOLF-WHISTLE MURDER: A NEGRO
"CHILD" OR "BOY" WHISTLED AT HER
AND THEY KILLED HIM.
That was the sum of the facts on which most newspaper readers based an opinion.
The Negroes drove away; and Carolyn, shaken, told Juanita. The two women determined to keep the incident from their "men-folks." They didn't tell J. W. Milam when he came to escort them home.
By Thursday afternoon, Carolyn Bryant could see the story was getting around. She spent Thursday night at the Milams, where at 4 a.m. (Friday) Roy got back from Texas. Since he had slept little for five nights, he went to bed at the Milams' while Carolyn returned to the store.
During Friday afternoon, Roy reached the store, and shortly thereafter a Negro told him what "the talk" was, and told him that the "Chicago boy" was "visitin' Preacher." Carolyn then told Roy what had happened.
Once Roy Bryant knew, in his environment, in the opinion of most white people around him, for him to have done nothing would have marked him for a coward and a fool.
On Friday night, he couldn't do anything. He and Carolyn were alone, and he had no car. Saturday was collection day, their busy day in the store. About 10:30 Saturday night, J. W. Milam drove by. Roy took him aside.
"I want you to come over early in the morning," he said. "I need a little transportation."
J.W. protested: "Sunday's the only morning I can sleep. Can't we make it around noon?"
Roy then told him.
"I'll be there," he said. "Early."
J. W. drove to another brother's store at Minter City, where he was working. He closed that store about 12:30 a.m., drove home to Glendora. Juanita was away, visiting her folks at Greenville. J. W. had been thinking. He decided not to go to bed. He pumped the pickup -- a half-ton '55 Chevrolet -- full of gas and headed for Money.
J. W. "Big Milam" is 36; six feet two, 235 pounds; an extrovert. Short boots accentuate his height; khaki trousers; red sports shirt; sun helmet. Dark-visaged; his lower lip curls when he chuckles; and though bald, his remaining hair is jet-black.
He is slavery's plantation overseer. Today, he rents Negro-driven mechanical cotton pickers to plantation owners. Those who know him say that he can handle Negroes better than anybody in the country.
Big Milam soldiered in the Patton manner. With a ninth-grade education, he was commissioned in battle by the 75th Division. He was an expert platoon leader, expert street fighter, expert in night patrol, expert with the "grease gun," with every device for close-range killing. A German bullet tore clear through his chest; his body bears "multiple shrapnel wounds." Of his medals, he cherishes one: combat infantryman's badge.
Big Milam, like many soldiers, brought home his favorite gun: the .45 Colt automatic pistol.
"Best weapon the Army's got," he says. "Either for shootin' or sluggin'."
Two hours after Big Milam got the word -- the instant minute he could close the store -- he was looking for the Chicago Negro.
Big Milam reached Money a few minutes shy of 2 a.m., Sunday, August 28. The Bryants were asleep; the store was dark but for the all-night light. He rapped at the back door, and when Roy came, he said: "Let's go. Let's make that trip now."
Roy dressed, brought a gun: this one was a .45 Colt. Both men were -- and remained -- cold sober. Big Milam had drunk a beer at Minter City around 9; Roy had had nothing.
There was no moon as they drove to Preacher's house: 2.8 miles east of Money.
Preacher's house stands 50 feet right of the gravel road, with cedar and persimmon trees in the yard. Big Milam drove the pickup in under the trees. He was bareheaded, carrying a five-cell flashlight in his left hand, the .45 in the right.
Roy Bryant pounded on the door.
Preacher: "Who's that?"
Bryant: "Mr. Bryant, from Money, Preacher."
Preacher: "All right, sir. Just a minute."
Preacher came out of the screened-in porch.
Bryant: "Preacher, you got a boy from Chicago here?"
Bryant: "I want to talk to him."
Preacher: "Yessir. I'll get him."
Preacher led them to a back bedroom where four youths were sleeping in two beds. In one was Bobo Till and Simeon Wright, Preacher's youngest son. Bryant had told Preacher to turn on the lights; Preacher had said they were out of order. So only the flashlight was used.
The visit was not a complete surprise. Preacher testified that he had heard of the "trouble," that he "sho' had" talked to his nephew about it. Bobo himself had been afraid; he had wanted to go home the day after the incident. The Negro girl in the party urged that he leave. "They'll kill him," she had warned. But Preacher's wife, Elizabeth Wright, had decided that the danger was being magnified; she had urged Bobo to "finish yo' visit."
"I thought they might say something to him, but I didn't think they'd kill a boy," Preacher said.
Big Milam shined the light in Bobo's face, said: "You the nigger who did the talking?"
"Yeah," Bobo replied.
Milam: "Don't say, 'Yeah' to me: I'll blow your head off. Get your clothes on."
Bobo had been sleeping in his shorts. He pulled on a shirt and trousers, then reached for his socks.
"Just the shoes," Milam hurried him
"I don't wear shoes without socks," Bobo said; and he kept the gun-bearers waiting while he put on his socks, then a pair of canvas shoes with thick crepe soles.
Preacher and his wife tried two arguments in the boy's behalf.
"He ain't got good sense," Preacher begged. "He didn't know what he was doing. Don't take him."
"I'll pay you gentlemen for the damages," Elizabeth Wright said.
"You niggers go back to sleep," Milam replied.
They marched him into the yard, told him to get in the back of the pickup and lie down. He obeyed. They drove toward Money.
Elizabeth Wright rushed to the home of a white neighbor, who got up, looked around, but decided he could do nothing. Then, she and Preacher drove to the home of her brother, Crosby Smith, at Sumner; and Crosby Smith, on Sunday morning, went to the sheriff's office at Greenwood.
The other young Negroes stayed at Preacher's house until daylight, when Wheeler Parker telephoned his mother in Chicago, who in turn notified Bobo's mother, Mamie Bradley, 33, 6427 S. St. Lawrence.
Had there been any doubt as to the identity of the "Chicago boy who done the talking," Milam and Bryant would have stopped at the store for Carolyn to identify him. But there had been no denial. So they didn't stop at the store. At Money, they crossed the Tallahatchie River and drove west.
Their intention was to "just whip him... and scare some sense into him." And for this chore, Big Milam knew "the scariest place in the Delta." He had come upon it last year hunting wild geese. Over close to Rosedale, the Big
River bends around under a bluff. "Brother, she's a 100-foot sheer drop, and she's a 100 feet deep after you hit."
Big Milam's idea was to stand him up there on that bluff, "whip" him with the .45, and then shine the light on down there toward that water and make him think you're gonna knock him in.
"Brother, if that won't scare the Chicago -------, hell won't."
Searching for this bluff, they drove close to 75 miles. Through Shellmound, Schlater, Doddsville, Ruleville, Cleveland, to the intersection south of Rosedale. There they turned south on Mississippi No. 1, toward the entrance to Beulah Lake. They tried several dirt and gravel roads, drove along the levee. Finally, they gave up: in the darkness, Big Milam couldn't find his bluff.
They drove back to Milam's house at Glendora, and by now it was 5 a.m.. They had been driving nearly three hours, with Milam and Bryant in the cab and Bobo lying in the back.
At some point when the truck slowed down, why hadn't Bobo jumped and run? He wasn't tied; nobody was holding him. A partial answer is that those Chevrolet pickups have a wraparound rear window the size of a windshield. Bryant could watch him. But the real answer is the remarkable part of the story.
Bobo wasn't afraid of them! He was tough as they were. He didn't think they had the guts to kill him.
Milam: "We were never able to scare him. They had just filled him so full of that poison that he was hopeless."
Back of Milam's home is a tool house, with two rooms each about 12 feet square. They took him in there and began "whipping" him, first Milam, then Bryant smashing him across the head with those .45's. Pistol-whipping: a court-martial offense in the Army... but MP's have been known to do it.... And Milam got information out of German prisoners this way.
But under these blows Bobo never hollered -- and he kept making the perfect speeches to insure martyrdom.
Bobo: "You bastards, I'm not afraid of you. I'm as good as you are. I've 'had' white women. My grandmother was a white woman."
Milam: "Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers -- in their place -- I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live. If they did, they'd control the government. They ain't gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we've got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. 'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you -- just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'"
So big Milam decided to act. He needed a weight. He tried to think of where he could get an anvil. Then he remembered a gin which had installed new equipment. He had seen two men lifting a discarded fan, a metal fan three feet high and circular, used in ginning cotton.
Bobo wasn't bleeding much. Pistol-whipping bruises more than it cuts. They ordered him back in the truck and headed west again. They passed through Doddsville, went to the Progressive Ginning Company. This gin is 3.4 miles east of Boyle: Boyle is two miles south of Cleveland. The road to this gin turns left off U.S. 61, after you cross the bayou bridge south of Boyle.
Milam: "When we got to that gin, it was daylight, and I was worried for the first time. Somebody might see us and accuse us of stealing the fan."
Bryant and Big Milam stood aside while Bobo loaded the fan. Weight: 74 pounds. The youth still thought they were bluffing.
They drove back to Glendora, then north toward Swan Lake and crossed the "new bridge" over the Tallahatchie. At the east end of this bridge, they turned right, along a dirt road which parallels the river. After about two miles, they crossed the property of L.W. Boyce, passing near his house.
About 1.5 miles southeast of the Boyce home is a lonely spot where Big Milam has hunted squirrels. The river bank is steep. The truck stopped 30 yards from the water.
Big Milam ordered Bobo to pick up the fan.
He staggered under its weight... carried it to the river bank. They stood silently... just hating one another.
Milam: "Take off your clothes."
Slowly, Bobo pulled off his shoes, his socks. He stood up, unbuttoned his shirt, dropped his pants, his shorts.
He stood there naked.
It was Sunday morning, a little before 7.
Milam: "You still as good as I am?"
Milam: "You still 'had' white women?"
That big .45 jumped in Big Milam's hand. The youth turned to catch that big, expanding bullet at his right ear. He dropped.
They barb-wired the gin fan to his neck, rolled him into 20 feet of water.
For three hours that morning, there was a fire in Big Milam's back yard: Bobo's crepe-soled shoes were hard to burn.
Seventy-two hours later -- eight miles downstream -- boys were fishing. They saw feet sticking out of the water. Bobo.
The majority -- by no means all, but the majority -- of the white people in Mississippi 1) either approve Big Milam's action or else 2) they don't disapprove enough to risk giving their "enemies" the satisfaction of a conviction.
Emmett Till murder defendant, J.W. Milam, in court with his family.
Significant Articles 2
Shortly after the “confession” article by William Bradford Huie appeared in the 24 January 1956 edition of Look magazine, a series of articles began to appear in the Black newspaper, the California Eagle. Although this series claims to unfold the truth about the Emmett Till murder while differing drastically from Huie, the articles received very little attention. Scanning several of the newspapers that had prominently featured the Till case and also commented on Huie’s article, none mentioned the Eagle articles.
The California Eagle installments were written by a journalist under the pseudonym Amos Dixon. An introductory note in the first installment claimed that Dixon not only had covered the trial, but that he “talked freely to those who knew what happened.” Unlike Huie, who had Milam and Bryant as his sources, Dixon maintained that there were accomplices to the murder and names them. His account matches more closely the testimonies of witnesses Willie Reed and Mandy Bradley, although at the same time, there are some obvious errors of fact.
Mississippi doctor and civil rights leader T. R. M. Howard may have been behind the publication of these articles. Historians David Beito and Linda Royster Beito, in their forthcoming biography of Howard, provide evidence for this in that Howard and Eagle publisher Loren Miller had been friends for over two decades. According to the Beitos, Howard did aid the publishing of another investigative piece, Time Bomb (also included on this website) which reached similar conclusions to Dixon, and which appeared around the same time the Eagle articles were published.
Dixon maintains that others, including two other Milam brothers and three other blacks were involved in the murder of Emmett Till. These names had already been familiar to Howard and had surfaced in the investigative articles by black reporter James Hicks (see the link to Hick’s investigations on this site also). Despite some obvious shortcomings, these articles have deserved greater attention and are an important source in maintaining early on the involvement of others in the murder of Emmett Till.
Interview with Mamie Till-Mobley
DSA: What kind of a boy was Emmett Till?
MTM: I would say that to me, Emmett was very ordinary. But as I look at today’s youth, I realize that Emmett was very extraordinary. I was a working mother, and at the time that Emmett was killed, I was a single parent. His step-father and I had gone our separate ways, and it was just the two of us. I worked all kinds of hours. I worked for the United States Air Force, and I was a clerk in charge of secret and confidential files. I was the only one with the combination to the files outside of the officer in charge, which meant that I had to go to work–I didn’t fool around. And I would work sometimes six or seven days in a row. I would work from 8 to13 hours a day, and that meant that Emmett had all the house responsibility. I mean everything was really on his shoulders, and Emmett took it upon himself. He told me if I would work, and make the money, he would take care of everything else. He cleaned, and he cooked quite a bit. And he even took over the laundry–so much so that I’d been relieved of the laundry for so long, that when Emmett was killed, and I went down for the first time to operate the washing machine, I called my mother crying, telling her that Emmett had broken the machine and he hadn’t told me (it wouldn’t ring for me–I had a ringer washer). I was just so carried away in grief that I guess I was glad to even be able to call her and tell her something about Emmett even if it was something that I thought was negative–breaking the ringer and not telling me. And my mother asked, “Did you engage the ringer?” And I wanted to know, “What do you mean?” She said, “Honey, you have to tighten the ringer.” I ran all the way from the second floor down to the basement. I had to go outside and down, tighten the ringer, ran back upstairs, and I really cried. I said, “Mama, it’s not broken, it’s ok.” And I don’t know, it was just such an emotional moment with me.
DSA: Was this right after his death, or before you had gone to Mississippi?
MTM: No, I had been to Mississippi. It looks like to me it was summertime. I don’t know what in the world was going on, but I hadn’t washed in all this length of time, but it had to be summertime. You know, you kind of lose details, but it was after the house had quieted down, and the house didn’t quiet down until I think, about November. And so it could have been one of the Indian Summer days in November. But I know it was time that I had to go downstairs and wash. When I returned home, my mother came home with me, and I didn’t have to worry about any laundry until she returned to her home, and that was sometime about mid-November. So this could well have been November.
DSA: Now, being from Chicago, did you have direct experience with southern racism yourself before Emmett’s death?
MTM: I had heard people talk about it, but no direct encounter.
DSA: So when Emmett went down to visit, did you have some concerns about the way life was down there?
MTM: Yes, I did, because I had been reading in Jet magazine about all the killings that had been going on, and I was aware that tension was high. But in talking to my uncle, Preacher Mose Wright, I was also assured by him that “things were getting much better, and you are unduly concerned.”
DSA: How were you first informed that something had happened?
MTM: Mose Wright’s oldest daughter called me that Sunday morning about 9:30 to let me know that Emmett had been taken from her dad’s house.
DSA: At this point they hadn’t found him yet, right?
MTM: Oh, no, they didn’t find him until Wednesday.
DSA: Now, the case received national attention. Did this surprise you?
MTM: It really did, because what happened to a black person in the United States of America was “ho-hum.” Whole families disappeared and nobody raised an eyebrow. The black people were afraid to talk about it because they knew that if they opened their big mouths, they would disappear as well.
DSA: What was it like for you to go down there for the trial? What was the climate–the emotion in the air there?
MTM: I could really describe my own feelings. I knew that for me to attend that trial did not mean that I was going to get back alive, and so I had to make a decision. Was it more important for me to be alive, or was it more important for me to attend the trial? And I made the decision that I had business in Mississippi, and my coming back dead or alive was of less importance than my being there on the scene alive as long as I could maintain life. And it was on that basis that I went. It left my mother devastated, but I was compelled to go. I had to go to Mississippi.
DSA: It must have been a brave thing for you, as well as Mose Wright, who pointed these men out in the courtroom. What a risk you took!
MTM: Yes, indeed. I never thought about it as being brave. It was just something I had to do, and if there was anything I could do to help the prosecuting attorney, then I had to do that. I just had to do it.
DSA: One of the things you said in a segment shown on Eyes on the Prize was that the verdict was the one you had expected. With that in mind, how did you view the trial? It was obviously a farce from the beginning.
MTM: Definitely, and that was the way I described it.
DSA: But was there a point where you had some hope that maybe justice would prevail?
MTM: Oh my goodness, as I listened to the testimonies that I was allowed to listen to, it was an open and shut case that the men would be convicted. But I guess what I really did, I was gauging the outcome by the actions of the outside crowd. And I knew when that jury retired, it was time for us to get out of the area. And I also noticed the black people who were attending the trial. They stayed until the jury retired. When the jury retired, they retired. And I spoke to my party, and I told them, “I would like for us to leave now.” And congressman Diggs said, “What, and miss the verdict?” I said, “This is one you will want to miss. The verdict is ‘not guilty.’ “ And they looked at me like they thought I was nuts. But because of their concern for me, the two carloads of us started back to Mt. Bayou, Mississippi. And about 45 minutes out of Sumner, the verdict came: “Not Guilty.” And they were just stunned. I mean, nobody said a word. It was just as if someone had taken our voices. But you could hear the cheering and the uproar in the little town. And we knew that had we been there, we could have been lynched.
DSA: What has been your feeling for the killers, Milam and Bryant, over the years?
MTM: Mercifully, the Lord just erased them out of my mind, out of my sight, with no conscious feelings toward them. Not hate, not love. I’ve occasionally wondered what their lot in life was like. But I have heard enough, that I know they suffered more than I’ve suffered. Because they suffered not only from guilt, but to the people for whom they had been such heroes, they were now curses. And they became friendless, family-less, homeless, jobless. I mean, they lost it all. And at least I have gained a world of friends. I have a home, I had a job, I had something to look forward to because I work with children constantly. Our lives just went in opposite directions. I became a benefactor to society, they became a scourge to society.
DSA: So in a sense, they have been in a prison for the last forty years.
MTM: Oh yes.
DSA: One of them has passed away I believe, right?
MTM: Both of them.
DSA: Oh, they both have now?
DSA: Oh, ok.
MTM: I think one passed sometime in 1994. That was Bryant.
DSA: Ok. I knew Milam had died around 1981, and one of the books I had read was written a few years ago, so it must have been before Bryant’s death. Has anyone in their family, or any of their friends ever tried to contact you to apologize on their behalf or anything like that?
MTM: No. No contact whatsoever.
DSA: Considering how much racism–including lynching–had been tolerated in the South, and then to have the killers ostracized for what they did, do you see that as the turning point then, as far as people saying, “enough is enough!”?
MTM: Well, I think the fact that I was able to get Emmett’s body out of Mississippi, and then to put that body on display for five days, and people could walk by and see what racism had really generated. I mean, to hear that they hung people on a tree, that they cut their fingers off and passed them out for souvenirs, to hear that, to read it, that is one thing. But to actually see it with your eyes, that is a different thing. And 600,000 people, which is a conservative estimate, walked by and looked at Emmett. People from all over the world came and attended the trail and they also passed by and looked at Emmett. It was something that was unprecedented, and people really didn’t know that things this horrible could take place, and the fact that it happened to a child, that make all the difference in the world.
DSA: Was that hard for you to have him on display like that?
MTM: It was very hard.
DSA: Were you thinking of the benefits to society, and what this would do for America?
MTM: I didn’t even think of the benefits to society. The main thing I thought about was: “Let the world see what has happened, because there is no way I could describe this.” And I needed somebody to help me tell what it was like.
DSA: Being 41 years since the murder, do you feel America still remembers this case? Do you feel much more needs to be said about it?
MTM: I certainly do.
DSA: And what could someone like me, as an up-and-coming historian do to help remind people of it?
MTM: Well, what you are doing. You are writing, you are talking. I often ask people to send letters to the Justice Department, because justice has not been done. And I am yet trying to bring about justice in this case. Not necessarily against the perpetrators, but the state, in the trial of these men. They made no effort whatsoever to see to it that justice was done. In fact, it was a conspiracy to make sure that justice was not done–even to the fact that they destroyed the case records–the transcripts of the trial.
DSA: I didn’t know that.
DSA: Are you happy with the books that have been written– A Death in the Delta and Emmett Till: The Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil Rights Movement?
MTM: I am happier with Clenora Hudson Weems, because I sat with her for–I don’t know–over a period of two years, telling her everything I knew, and helping her to find the material, and even then there are some things that are incorrect. A Death in the Delta, is less accurate, and the one thing that I did not like was that the author said that he had tried to contact me and I refused to answer. Now, I don’t know where his letters went, but I’ve been here at 8434 since January 1961, and I didn’t receive any correspondence from him. I would have gladly cooperated, because it is an advantage to me to know that people are talking about and thinking about Emmett Till. Stephen Whitfield, I believe it was.
DSA: Yes. So, tell me a little bit about the “Emmett Till Players” that you founded.
MTM: These are boys and girls that I have taught. I began teaching them to do Dr. King’s speeches. I started in 1973 quite by accident. I was a Freed Assistant at the Carter Elementary School. We were told to do a commemorative program honoring Dr. King on his birthday. And, the time was passing, time was passing, and nothing was happening. I went to the principal and I asked him, “What are we going to do?” He said, “Mrs. Mobley, I don’t know what you are going to do.” And that’s when I found out it was up to me, and I had about three weeks. I had no children. I had no classroom. And I said, “I don’t have any children.” And he said, “The teachers will give you children.” So I went to the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers and asked them for assistance. “Give me some of your children.” But before that I went to the library, and I asked our librarian, “What do you have? She said, “I have three records.” And I persuaded her to let me take those records out. I listened to those records. And I became so engrossed with what Dr. King was saying, until when I went to school the next morning, I had not been to bed. I had put those records on cassette tapes, and then I transcribed them on the typewriter. I would be working with one (I had more than one tape recorder–I’ve always had two and three of everything) and while one was recording a record I would be transcribing record number one. I think I finished up about 5:30 that morning, and got myself ready to go to school. And I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to go through those speeches and select certain ones for the children to recite during an assembly program. I took all of that day and wrote out what I wanted them to do. Then I went to my teachers and I asked them to send me some children. And they sent me the worst they had; the non-learners, the ones with problems. But they performed and did it beautifully. My God, those kids worried about their ability to do it. But I did everything I could for them so that they could get up in front of that school. They worried that they would forget their speeches. I gave them multiple copies and had them place them on their mirrors, on the door to their bedroom, and on the refrigerator. They wouldn’t have a chance to forget those speeches because they would be everywhere they went. And when they delivered them, they did it like they had known those speeches all their lives. I was proud of them and they were proud of themselves. When they were on that stage it was as though they suddenly became someone new. That was the beginning. They continued to perform at assemblies, and my church sponsored many events that allowed them to continue to perform. Over the years there have been hundreds of these kids, the Emmett Till Players. And so many have gone on to become such benefactors to society. I have some who are now preachers. I still hear from them and they thank me for the opportunity I gave them.
DSA: That’s great. So, do you still have a lot of contact with them?
MTM: Yes. Yes, I hear from just about every one of them.
DSA: It sounds like you have made a difference in a lot of lives. Mrs. Mobley, I thank you so much for your time today, and for sharing your story with me.
- dec 3 1996
Interview with Hugh Stephen Whitaker~Part 1
Hugh Stephen Whitaker was born in 1939 in Charleston, MS (near Sumner, the site of the Emmett Till murder trial). His stepfather, N.Z. Troutt, was chief of police in Charleston in 1955, and he was appointed as deputy sheriff for the duration of the trial. For his Master’s thesis, submitted to Florida State University in 1963, he wrote “A Case Study in Southern Justice: The Emmett Till Case,” the first book length study of the Emmett Till murder, and the only such source for another twenty-seven years. Whitaker’s thesis is the only one to reference the original trial transcript, in addition to first-hand interviews with many of the trial participants (the sheriff, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and all of the jurors).
Two years after receiving his Master's degree, he wrote his doctoral
dissertation, “A New Day: The Effects of Negro Enfranchisement in Selected Mississippi Counties” (all of which were in the Mississippi Delta), also submitted to Florida State University. He taught at Temple University, the University of Southern California, and Florida State University. Currently, he is a researcher with the Florida Department of Health. Formerly married to Aide Steele of Tutwiler, he has two daughters, Linda and Heather, and two grandchildren. He is engaged to be married to Penny Young in the fall of 2005.
DSA: How old were you, and where were you living at the time of the Emmett Till murder case?
HSW: I was fifteen years old. I was living in Charleston, one of the two (the larger) county seats in Tallahatchie County. Maps in my thesis show it. My stepfather, N. Z. Troutt, was Chief of Police in Charleston. He considered running for sheriff in 1955 and decided that he did not have the money necessary to run a campaign. He was deputized by Strider to assist with the trial. A bomb was stuck under my bedroom window (on the front porch) about six feet from my head, during the trial. I jumped out of bed and the culprit removed the bomb and ran to a car and sped off.
DSA: Did you know any of the players in the trial?
HSW: I knew everyone who was involved in the trial -- sheriff, prosecutor, judge, defense attorneys, and all the jurors, I believe, at least casually. Most had children in school with me. I did not know the defendants except by reputation, or any of the African American people from Money, Mississippi.
Money was not really incorporated. Most of the “town,” which was really small, was located on or near the west bank of the Tallahatchie River (again see the maps in the theses online). The river, at that point, separates Tallahatchie County from Leflore County.
The kidnapping occurred in Leflore County, near the west bank of the river. The murder occurred near a bridge, but on the east bank of the river, making Tallahatchie County the actual murder site. Money would have been about 15-20 miles from Charleston. Again see the maps in the thesis. The prosecutors decided to select jurors primarily from the northeast section of the county -- the hill county, rather than the Delta. The Delta had very rich soil, was totally flat, and had large plantations or farms. Sheriff Strider lived on the west bank of the river, and had a farm of several thousand acres, planted almost totally in cotton, and employed hundreds of African American farm hands. He had a road from Highway 32 to his home, and there were seven white concrete block, well manicured homes, occupied by seven African American families -- employees. On the top of each roof, facing west, was one ten-foot high word -- S-T-R-I-D-E-R (a little aside).
The prosecutorial strategy was to get jurors from as far away from Money as possible, thinking this was the best strategy. However, this led to the selection of mostly farmers who farmed mainly small farms with poor soil, in the hill area, and who viewed African Americans as competitors -- much the same as many in the same situation today view Hispanics. Also, most of the people who knew J. W. Milam, and to a lesser degree, his half brother Roy Bryant, disliked and/or feared them. So the jury selection strategy backfired and played into the defense's hands. Clearly it would have been possible to find jurors who would have voted for conviction based on the evidence. In fact one of the jurors told his son, who was about my age, that the original vote was 9-3 for acquittal. Unanimity came on the second ballot. In 1962-63, when I interviewed them, no one mentioned two ballots.
DSA: How did you come to choose the Emmett Till murder as the topic of your Master’s Thesis?
HSW: I mentioned to my advisor, Dr. Marion Irish, who was a national vice president of the American Political Science Association, and co-author of the best-selling text on American government -- that the Till case happened in my home county, and that I knew most of those involved. One of my committee members was from Memphis, TN, which is nearby. He also insisted that I choose this topic. Then the whole committee insisted. They provided some small amount of travel funds to cover my research -- perhaps a couple of hundred dollars.
DSA: You and other historians of the case have referred to the changing tide, or attitude, in Mississippi in the days following the discovery of the body. Mississippians, who at first were outraged over the murder, soon became defensive about attacks upon their state by “outside agitators.” Did you see this change at the time, or mainly later through your research in newspapers and other documents?
HSW: I think I covered this in the thesis. There was an initial cry for justice and for the prosecution of the two half-brothers, by both the power structure and by the residents in general. For many residents, this attitude never changed. However, as the thesis says, the attitudes of many -- Strider, the defense attorneys, who initially refused to represent Milam and Bryant, and many others, was turned around by the comments in the national press. The statement by Till's mother "I want a special prosecutor appointed, and I want the state of Mississippi to pay for it" was reported rather irresponsibly by the press as "The whole state of Mississippi will have to pay for this." "THIS" was interpreted as the murder, of course. Within days, this became an "us" versus "them" conflict, and resistance to the prosecution began to develop. Soon after the trial, Bryant's store was boycotted by its almost 100% African American clientele, and it rapidly bankrupted and closed. Also, no one in the county would rent them land for farming, in 1956. This forced the brothers into bootlegging in this "dry" state. When Milam drove a pickup pulling a flatbed trailer carrying a whisky still that he had stolen, through Charleston, from the eastern border to the western one, down Main Street, Highway 32, around the courthouse square, people were incensed. As many told me in 1962, "after all we did for those boys, for them to do that . . . ". Milam and Bryant were then essentially forced to move from the area to Texas.
This trial probably somewhat speeded voter registration of African Americans in the area. NONE were registered to vote in 1955. Currently, a majority of the elected officials in Tallahatchie County are African Americans. Effective July 1, 2005 the main north-south highway (US 49) through the Delta and Tallahatchie County was named the Emmett Till Memorial Highway by the Mississippi legislature. This bill was proposed and endorsed by the county commissioners (called in Mississippi "the county board of supervisors") of both Leflore and Tallahatchie counties.
DSA: Did you attend the trial or spend time in Sumner during the trial? If so, what do you recall about the experience?
HSW: My stepfather was deputized and "put in charge" of the trial. I believe I attended one of the days of the trial, but did not get inside the courtroom, which was packed with press. Perhaps I was there for only part of the day. No one was willing to discuss much with a fifteen-year-old kid. Seeing the enormity of the press coverage in a town of 700 residents (Sumner, the other of the two county seats), and especially meeting David Halberstam, were the most memorable parts then.
DSA: When you did your research and talked to the sheriff, attorneys, and jurors, did you sense that you were the first to talk to them since the case dropped out of the newspapers in early 1956, or had they been badgered for interviews in the intervening years?
HSW: Interest in the case died down quickly after 1955 in Mississippi. The locals were not proud of what had occurred, and were angered by the brothers selling their story to Huie and Look magazine. The moonshine still incident further angered the locals. After the trial and immediate attention, no one seemed to have interviewed them. Certainly no one who was perceived as seeking the truth, as opposed to someone with an agenda, talked with them. My research was perceived by most people as an academic exercise. Most people did not think the research would see the light of day beyond the academic world. And the half-brothers had left the area for Texas. And I was a "local boy", so people were very honest and straightforward with me.
DSA: Did Sheriff Strider talk to you about his theory at the time of the trial that the body recovered from the Tallahatchie River was not that of Emmett Till? Especially in light of the confession article that was published in Look magazine?
HSW: Sheriff Strider talked with me quite freely on this. He gave me his (I think) entire collection of hate mail, as well as many from people who supported his actions. He and County Attorney Hamilton Caldwell both confirmed that neither of them, nor really anyone involved with the case, had ANY doubts that the body was that of Emmett Till. It was unclear whether Strider or the defense attorneys came up with the idea to create a "smoke screen" which would give the jurors an "out". Both the sheriff and the lawyers implied to me that the “smoke screen” was their idea. The jurors selected were going to acquit. This "smoke screen" gave the jurors an "out", and kept them from receiving as much scorn as everyone involved felt would be coming at them. Not one juror stated to me that he had any doubt about the body's identity, or that the accused had actually murdered Till. Strider, the jurors, and everyone involved really resented the Look article. It clearly made them all look like fools for having supported the brothers.
I interviewed Huie at his home in Alabama for an entire day. Huie gave me complete information on all that had transpired, and copies of all his books. Huie also gave me many ideas about writing style, and about being courageous in seeking to be fair, accurate, and honest. He was very strong in his attitudes about civil rights, and was a great influence on my research and upon the rest of my life. It was not easy for him to be a white supporter of equality and justice in Alabama in the early 1960's.
I should finally say that neither Strider nor anyone involved with the case ever doubted the identity of the body or who the killers were. And no one expressed anything but extreme dislike and disapproval for Milam and Bryant. All hoped they would never return to Mississippi, even for a visit. I should say that the defense attorneys confirmed the accuracy of the Look article. They also confirmed that the brothers acted alone. My suspicions about this last theory are shown on page 150 of the thesis. It was unclear to me why Sheriff Strider had locked up two of the three African American men -- under false identities -- thought to be "involved" with the murder, before and for the duration of the trial, unless they were involved or had direct knowledge of the murder. Huie never expressed to me any doubts that the two brothers acted alone. He was pretty adamant about this. And I felt the brothers -- especially Milam -- had such enormous egos that it would not have occurred to them that it was necessary to involve anyone else.
DSA: Moses Wright said that there was a third person on the doorstep when Milam and Bryant came to his home. Do you, or did Huie consider the accuracy of this testimony, if the men did act alone? Do you think the third man was simply there to show them the way to Wright’s cabin and then had no further involvement?
HSW: Huie and his lawyers both believed Milam and Bryant when they said in the interview for Look Magazine that no one else was along. While it is possible someone showed them the house, I tend to doubt it.
DSA: When you did your research, did you consider the conflicting conclusions between Huie’s article and other investigative articles of the time, such as the booklet Time Bomb, and the articles by “Amos Dixon” in the Black newspaper, the California Eagle, that say there were accomplices?
HSW: I used every press article and magazine article available to me at the time of the writing. I never saw either of those, that I can remember. Huie was the only journalist to have access to the defendants. There was never any doubt as to guilt or who had killed Till, in the area -- not among anyone connected to the case. I searched my old copy of the Mississippi Code, which was applicable then, and most crimes had a two-year statute of limitations, excluding murder. It seems that an article in the past month in Mississippi newspapers seems to indicate that a truck the same color as Milam's was at the Drew location on the date it was seen. The occupants were said to be going fishing. This refers to the Willie Reed story, and the recent press reports seem to refute this. I did research on the 1955 press coverage at Florida A & M University library, and also through interlibrary loan. Hard as it is for today’s young people to believe, there was no Internet then. I was the first white student allowed to use the library. I had to sneak in a back door and work in a carrel in the stacks. One day I tired of this, and just exited through the main lobby and front door. You could have heard a pin drop. From then on, Florida State University had to open its doors to Florida A & M students.
- june 22 2005
Interview with Hugh Stephen Whitaker~Part 2
DSA: In the Huie papers, there is a letter of Huie's, written to Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, on October 12, 1955, before the Look article came out, stating that the "torture and murder party" included two other men, but that he needed their releases in order to publish their names "or no publisher will touch it." He went on to say that "I know who these men are: they are important to the story, but I have to pay them because of their 'risks'." He considered four releases (including Milam and Bryant's) as "too heavy a handicap," and said "we can if necessary, omit the names of the other two. We can even avoid all reference to them." Huie does appear to change his mind about accomplices after meeting with Milam and Bryant on October 23.
HSW: Huie never mentioned any involvement of any other persons in his day-long visit with me. He shared his notes, but of course did not give them to me. He never mentioned any other parties being involved. He did tell me he paid $7000 to the brothers for their stories. Milam and Bryant said they got $3500. Either EACH of them got $3500, and this was what the brothers meant, or the lawyers took half for arranging the meeting. He never mentioned either of the sources you list.
DSA: What do you think, then, about the testimony of Willie Reed, who said he saw the truck and the men, in addition to hearing sounds of a beating on the plantation near Drew, Sunflower County, the morning after the kidnapping?
HSW: I have reread my thesis, and I see the testimony of Willie Reed. First, the route of the truck that night, as showed to Huie (he actually drove the entire route of the supposed kidnapping) did not pass near the spot identified. This is the story referred to above, concerning a pickup truck of similar color to the one owned by Milam. As you can see from the thesis, I had doubts in 1962 about whether the brothers acted alone. I could never get any definitive statement from anyone, not even my stepfather, as to why, if the three persons I mentioned were not "involved" or witnesses, they were locked in jail under false identities before and during the trial, on Sheriff Strider’s orders. I assumed that one of them had washed the blood from the truck Sunday morning, though Milam had assured Huie and the lawyers that he alone washed out the truck. Milam was not one to do manual labor if he could pass the chore along, especially to African Americans.
DSA: Do you recall hearing about any reaction of Bryant and Milam's family (mother, siblings, others) to the Look article? Do you believe they knew the men were guilty of the crime from the beginning?
HSW: No, I didn’t hear of their reaction. I'm sure they did know that they were guilty all along, or at least felt they were capable of it. That's why Carolyn Bryant and Milam's wife, Juanita, tried to keep the incident at the store from the brothers in the first place. Whether the family felt killing an African American (at that time) was a crime is another question. I don't know.
DSA: Did you try to track down Bryant and Milam, to interview them for your thesis?
Yes, but they had moved to Texas, living in relative anonymity. On a student budget of $133 a month, I hardly had the assets to look for them. [I had to pay tuition out of that $133, too.]
DSA: There was an article in the Chicago Defender at the time of the murder, which attributes a quote to Leflore County Sheriff George Smith, to Alma Spearman, Emmett Till’s grandmother, where he calls Bryant “a mean, cruel man,” who was implicated in the beating death of a black man the previous year. Later, Till’s uncle, Crosby Smith, said in an interview that when he reported the kidnapping to Sheriff Smith the morning after, Smith said that Bryant and Milam had done something similar to that in Glendora, Mississippi. Had you ever heard any stories about their involvement in other violence toward an African American prior to the Till murder?
HSW: I never heard of Smith saying that. He never said it to me in my interviews with him. Milam also denied any such thing about himself. I'd be pretty sure Bryant never killed anyone before this. He was pretty mild-mannered when by himself.
This may have been a reference to the murder on December 3, 1955 of Clinton Melton at a service station in Glendora, Mississippi by Elmer Kimbell, who reportedly was driving J.W. Milam’s pickup truck at the time of the murder.
DSA: How long did it take for your thesis to be known and quoted?
HSW: Scribner's, Random House and, I believe, Columbia University Press all expressed a lot of interest in publishing the thesis in the fall of 1963. Then Bear Bryant, football coach at the University of Alabama, successfully sued Look magazine for libel for something like $5.5 million, an enormous sum then. That caused the publishers to have reservations. Also, I knew that if I published it, probably both my parents would be fired from their jobs, and perhaps worse. My stepfather worked for the state police -- the Highway patrol -- as a special investigator. My mother was the head librarian for the Tallahatchie County system. They would have suffered severe repercussions. As I said earlier, there had been a bomb placed under our window about four feet from my head as I slept, during the trial.
After the initial requests (at least three publishers read it and expressed interest) I refused to let anyone publish it. Probably that was a mistake, as I look back.
DSA: Did you receive immediate feedback and interest in it?
HSW: I "printed" 25 copies on the department’s mimeograph machine, and bound them in paper covers. When I went to the Justice department, I saw one of those copies on Ramsey Clark's desk. The library copies were checked out by nearly every author who wrote a book on it. The husband of the woman who typed part of it for me (I gave her a copy) Sonny Simpson, wrote a book on the case. He quoted me heavily. James Baldwin was one of the first ten or so persons checking out the library's copy (the library tracks the persons checking it out by interlibrary loan). He used it, of course, in writing the play Blues for Mister Charlie.
DSA: There was not another book length study of Emmett Till until Stephen Whitfield's A Death in the Delta in 1988. It seems that interest in the case was renewed in the mid-1980's. Are you able to gauge the accuracy of that perceived new interest by how many, or few people, sought you out to comment on the case, or quoted you, between 1963 and 1988?
HSW: I once ran my name through amazon.com to see how many books STILL in print quoted me. It was a lot. Many things -- from Keith Beauchamp's documentary to the fact that this is the 50th anniversary of the murder, to the reopening of the case, contributed to the renewed interest in the thesis. The Internet, also, is a major cause.
DSA: What was your stepfather's reaction to the acquittal?
HSW: He was, like all the locals, glad to be out of the spotlight and see the press crush leave. You realize that about 2000 press descended on a town of 700. And the threats that came against him and our family lead to some apprehension. Like the bomb on our front porch -- which I caught before it detonated. That said, after the immediacy of the trial, he knew an enormous injustice had been done.
He once saved the life of an African American friend of mine who Sheriff Strider was going to shoot in the back, by slamming a car door on Strider's arm. He also discovered several bodies of African American men who were lynched, in his capacity as special investigator with the state police. One was burned to death, chained to a tree. My stepfather was also at Oxford, MS on the campus, at the Lyceum building, defending James Meredith, and was knocked out with a tear gas canister. He was there the entire week of the riots, as was my stepbrother Nat Troutt (his son), who commanded a National Guard unit there. Nat later became commanding General of the entire Mississippi National Guard, as well as a state senator and judge. My stepfather, N. Z. Troutt, also marched with James Meredith as his protection on the March down U.S. Highway 51. When Meredith was shot, he stepped in front of Meredith, and was struck by some of the birdshot. He chased the perpetrator through the woods, caught and arrested him.
All of these incidents sharply influenced his attitudes. He was always considered "fair" by the African American population; he would have been considered "progressive" by the standards of the time. Mr. Troutt never had anything but contempt for Milam and Bryant. Both my parents knew a great injustice had been done. But during the immediate time between the murder and the trial, everyone’s concern in the county was for their safety. And he was charged with protecting everyone connected with the case.
My mother went on to desegregate the county library system -- she was over all four or five branches. She hired an African American as assistant librarian when this was almost unheard of. The woman went on to become my mother's closest friend.
To answer your question -- I guess that neither of them thought the trial was fair. They really disliked -- hated would not be an understatement -- the brothers -- much more so, J. W. Milam. All the locals felt that Milam was the person to blame; Bryant was really "dragged along" by his much older half-brother. The whiskey still incident described in the thesis only added to everyone's strong dislike for Milam.
My stepfather was the one who first told me about the two African American men who were locked in the jail under assumed names. He never told me if he knew about the fact before the trial. He certainly did after the conclusion of the trial. Both he and I assumed that the men had knowledge of the murders, but did not participate in them, except for washing out the pickup the next day. Though Milam swore to Huie that he alone had washed out the pickup, Milam, as I said earlier, would never do manual labor if he could pass the job along to one of his "hands."
DSA: What was your reaction to the acquittal?
HSW: I was, of course, 15 at the time. I guess you could say that all of us, black and white, knew that the verdict would be "not guilty." Though it seemed incomprehensible to most of the kids my age that any juror could reach that decision. I don't think the kids our age who played football and baseball after school with kids of both races, could comprehend that racism could be that deep among our elders. In a town that small, one didn't divide people into groups -- rich (there weren't any) and poor, smart or less smart, better car or "rattletrap", etc. Everyone was your friend, because you needed them at some time in your life. The town had the "domino" theory. If you knocked down any one of them, everyone would suffer some consequences -- like dominos in a row falling down. So no one "told" on another.
That said, this seemed to be an open and shut case, and no juror could reasonably acquit. There were, in reality, a good 50% of the local white males who would have voted to convict on the evidence. The defense just did a good job of eliminating them from the jury, from helping to pick the jury list, to challenging the folks who would have been fair. If women had been able to serve on juries -- or African Americans, this decision (acquittal) would not have been reached.
Some other researchers who talked at length with the jurors, years later, swear that there were three ballots (that was told to me, too.) I was told that all three ballots were unanimous, but in retrospect, if the ballots had been unanimous, there should not have been three votes. As I said earlier, I was told recently by one of the juror's sons, that three of the jurors voted "guilty” on the first ballot. Two quickly changed their votes, but one held out for a while, until the others wore him down. Of course, this all took much less than an hour. I was told, in 1962, that they were finished in five minutes, but Strider sent word for the jurors to "have a coke" from the coke machine, and not to come back too soon, as it would look bad. So they did.
Writing the thesis was probably pivotal in my life, though my undergraduate days were spent fighting segregation both at Ole Miss and within my national fraternity -- Pi Kappa Alpha. In 1964-65 I wrote my dissertation on African American attempts at voting in the Mississippi Delta, and the results of their attempts, and successes. My nights with SNICK, and COFO and black churches and courtrooms and jails, really turned me into a raging liberal, and an "activist."
DSA: How do you feel about the books and documentaries that have been written or produced about the Emmett Till case since yours?
HSW: Nearly all have been pretty good, and tried to look at the case objectively, though many looked at different "parts" of the case. Most seemed to sincerely search for the truth. Most really relied VERY heavily on my thesis. There are many books, plays, and documentaries in the works now whose authors have sworn me to secrecy. Most have attempted to find "new" sources for their research, but nearly everyone relied on my thesis and Huie's books and articles as the basic starting points.
DSA: What was your reaction to the reopening of the case?
HSW: I was at first skeptical of reopening the case after nearly fifty years, in an election year. Federal law may have no statute of limitations, but Mississippi law at the time had a two-year statute of limitations, but not for murder. After rereading my thesis, some Florida State University graduate students pointed out that on page 150, I had pointed out my feelings at the time that three others were involved, and that two of the three had been jailed by Sheriff Strider under false identities, before and for the duration of the trial. I tend to think that their involvement consisted of cleaning up the blood in Milam’s pickup and perhaps burning Till's clothes and shoes. Their testimony would have made it very difficult for a juror to rationalize a “not guilty” verdict.
DSA: If you were to rewrite your thesis, would you do anything differently now?
HSW: If I could go back to 1962-63, I would probably try to interview Milam and Bryant and their families. I was really afraid of Milam, though I could have had lots of "go-betweens" to vouch for me. I would also try to interview more of the African Americans who were involved, though nearly all had left Mississippi. I was constrained by time -- I was taking classes and I had very little in the way of resources.
DSA: Is there anything you wish you would have included that you did not?
HSW: I had accumulated a number of pictures and photographs, including several of Till before and after his death, all of which were censored out by my major professor. They would have added to the work. In retrospect, I would have probably given in and published the thesis as a book. I think it would have been good for whites to feel shame in the 1960's, and for African Americans of the day, especially youth, to see that some white southerners could be counted on to tell the truth.
I remember, in the summer of 1964, twelve of us -- eight whites and four African Americans -- were spending the summer in Chapel Hill, paid for by Nelson Rockefeller, studying and doing research on Negro enfranchisement in the South. An African American kid, some two years younger than I, was passing through on his way to Chicago, where he was to start graduate study at Northwestern. He could not find any hotel in Chapel Hill which would let him have a room. I asked the alumni house, where we were staying, to put a rollaway bed in my room for him, and he stayed the night. He stayed up all night reading my thesis, and he kept saying, again and again, "Ain't no way a white man could have written this."
I am not sure I would have included the fact, though it was fact and relevant to explaining the mind set of the jurors, that young Till's father had been hanged by the army for raping three Italian women, and murdering the last victim. He was being extolled by some press as a war hero who died fighting for his country, when the true facts were as stated. It was inflammatory then, but really impacted the perceptions.
DSA: People in this case often come out as one-dimensional characters. Do you feel that the press characterized Sheriff Strider correctly?
HSW: You can see some of the impacts of Strider in my thesis, or in the reprint of it, in the upcoming issue of Rhetoric and Public Policy. Strider was complex. He gave me whatever I wanted -- all his mail during that period, which he had saved. His was probably the largest plantation in the county, some 6,000 acres of VERY fertile Delta land. "His" African American farm hands had electricity and running water, and new concrete block houses, when this was very rare in the Delta. He was known for treating his employees better than most. Read the stuff from the thesis about him. At the same time, he was at the time of the Till murder, and in 1962, an ardent segregationist, determined to keep black people "in their place." If he had to pay his hundreds of black employees a living wage, it would really have cut into his income. And the story above about trying to shoot an unarmed black man in the back (his hands were raised in the "surrender" position) tells it all.
DSA: Were there sides to him that you knew already, or discovered in your interviews with him that would paint a better or more accurate picture of him?
HSW: The sheriff in Mississippi at the time could not succeed himself. Two families, the Rices and the Dogans, rotated the job since around 1900. One family would run, and the other would be his main deputy. Four years later the positions would be reversed. The sheriff’s office was very lucrative, because of prohibition in the state. Bootleggers could operate only if they paid off the sheriff weekly. They were open, even to the point of having liquor stores one block from the courthouse. Strider had a line outside his office every Monday morning.
Anyway, these two families –- the Rices and the Dogans -- were not farmers -- they were really "town" people. They were known by most black persons as reasonably fair. Strider, however, was elected sheriff for one term. And he would enforce the "code". Black employees of a plantation would be offered free housing, and tendered credit at the plantation or "company” store (remember "Sixteen Tons?"). The employee would be paid so poorly (daily wages for a “skilled” tractor driver in those days was $3.50 for a dawn-to-dark work-day). Cotton pickers were paid by the hundred pounds picked, usually a dollar. So they never "caught up" in their credit. So if an employee tried to leave for a better job or working conditions, Strider would "go get them" and bring them forcibly back to the original farm, where they might be severely beaten for attempting to leave. While he was extremely polite and helpful to me in my research, neither my stepfather nor I had much respect for him. We disliked what he stood for.
DSA: Does anything stand out in the hate mail that Strider gave you?
HSW: I referred to the worst letters in the thesis. See them there. The letter to all the P.O. Box holders in Money may be the worst. The recurring theme was that they would threaten his life -- and usually with some explicit type of torture. Then when (see the thesis) Strider was shot at, and barely missed -- it hit the car on the post between the car windows as he sat in his car, he really was afraid. He did not run for sheriff again because of reaction to his role in the Till case.
However, a fairly large number of the letters Strider received were admonishing him not to give in -- to try to save "our way of life."
DSA: Did the majority of the letters come from Illinois like he stated?
HSW: A large number were from Illinois. It was certainly not 50% of the ones he saved. And I had nearly one thousand of them. Some of the most threatening ones were from the Chicago area. Few friendly ones were from there.
DSA: Did any of the defense attorneys express any regret for having taken the case, or securing the acquittal?
HSW: They did not say so in 1962-63. But I am certain that Whitten, at least, had some regrets later. They all stated that it brought them in a lot of business later. Not because they defended "these peckerwoods," as the attorneys said, but that they were seen as able lawyers during the trial. At least some of their clients told them so. They all recounted the whisky still story described above and in the thesis, as evidence of how disgusted everyone was with Milam and Bryant.
The attorneys arranged the Huie (Look) interview, and drew up the releases and contract. The publication of the Look article cast the attorneys in a bad light. The answer is no, they never expressed regret, in 1962-63. I am sure they did so later. But not to me.
DSA: I have read where one of them later said that he was not proud of his involvement.
HSW: This was Whitten. None of them were proud of what they did. To a one, they said they never asked their clients, "Did you do it?" At least not until the Huie interviews, which came after the trial.
Emmett Till Foundation
Mamie Till-Mobley, Founder and President (1973-2003)
Bertha Thomas, Executive Director (2003-Present)
STATEMENT OF MISSION AND PURPOSE
The Emmett Till Foundation is a Chicago-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to the memory of Emmett Louis Till, whose brutal murder on August 28, 1955, and the acquittal of his confessed kidnappers, became the impetus for the Civil Rights Movement of the mid fifties.
The Emmett Till Foundation is committed to teaching boys and girls to become responsible American citizens and serious scholars as well as becoming well-versed in Christian living through:
** Memorizing and delivering excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and other multi-ethnic artists.
** Sponsoring programs throughout the U. S. through which they can deliver these addresses, thereby increasing their interaction with multi-cultural groups in a variety of settings.
** Building self-esteem through positive audience response.
** Encouraging participation in all aspects of the educational process: academic, artistic, cultural, scientific, and sports. Emphasis is upon selecting a field of specialization and moving toward that goal.
** Awarding college scholarships for scholastic excellence. These are awarded yearly on July 25, Emmett’s birthday.
** Training children in Christian ethics, emphasizing family unity through problem discussions with peers and parents.
MEMBERSHIP AND CONTRIBUTION FORM
To become a member of the Foundation or to make a contribution to assist in providing positive alternatives for these youths, you may print and use this form. All donations are tax deductible through the Foundation’s 501 (c) (3) status.
Name _____________________________________ Date __________________
Street Address _____________________________________________________
City ________________________ State _____________ Zip Code ____________
Membership cost will be posted soon
Make checks payable to:
The Emmett Till Foundation
P. O. Box 199265
Chicago, IL 60619
EmmettTillMurder.com & Footnot.com is not affiliated with the Emmett Till Foundation but is happy to advertise for this worthy cause. All questions regarding the Foundation should be made to the above address, and NOT to this website.
Tribute to Mamie Till-Mobley
My life changed forever after my first conversation with Mamie Till-Mobley. At that moment I learned what real greatness was.
Losing a child is something I hope I never experience. However, the way she lost hers would be unbearable beyond words. She triumphed over that loss, although she made the realization of justice for his murder her life-long goal. She told me once: “I cry everyday. But I cry as I move.” From that first brave act of putting her son’s mutilated body on display to show the world the ugliness of racism, until the day she took her last breath nearly 48 years later, she never stopped moving. The world is a better place because of that.
She also told me once that her mother was a homebody, and that she (Mamie) was headed in the same direction. She had preferred a quiet life for herself, and envisioned that as her future. Emmett’s death changed all that. She became an advocate, something she never would have foreseen. She traveled and spoke, and kept her son’s case before the public as best she could. She became a teacher of children by profession, but was a teacher to everyone she spoke to. Those of us who listened will never forget her.
In 1973, she began teaching groups of children who would eventually become the Emmett Till Players. These children – hundreds of them over the years – look to her with gratitude for what she did for them. She inspired them to become better. They learned from her as she instilled in them the message of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches. That message took root and grew in their souls. Many have gone on to great things and they credit her for that. She lost a child, but gained a world of children. Emmett’s death and Mamie’s life – together, what did each did for the cause of freedom can never be measured.
I once asked Mamie if she would like a chance to meet and sit down with Carolyn Bryant, the woman who Emmett allegedly whistled at in Money, Mississippi in August 1955—the event that led to his death. “Oh, that would be wonderful,” she said. “Just to sit down as mother to mother.” Surely Mamie would have had questions for Carolyn. Decades long questions. However, she had no bitterness in her heart as she fantasized what such a meeting would be like. She saw it more for Carolyn’s benefit. Surely any person with a conscience at all would want to seek forgiveness. If not for what she may have done to provoke Emmett’s death, at least to apologize for her husband’s and brother-in-law’s actions. That moment would have benefited Carolyn. She would have found in Mamie a caring, loving person ready to forgive. That it never took place was certainly Carolyn’s loss.
I cherish my last conversation with Mamie, held in December 2002 -- a month before her death. She was excited. She caught me up on all the news. A new documentary by Stanley Nelson, The Murder of Emmett Till, was going to premier on PBS the following month. It was also going to play at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, close to my home. She also told me that there was a good chance that her son’s case would be reopened. I hadn’t talked to her for a few months, but I promised to call more often. She was happy to hear that, and gave me her dialysis schedule so that I would be sure to call when she was home. I regret that we did not talk again. I regret that I did not write down every word she said to me for the six years that I knew her. But I cherish the memories of a remarkable woman. My life is truly better because of her.
I learned of Mamie’s death during a happy moment. I had just purchased a new cell phone that day, and it had access to the internet. As I lie in bed, I was playing with the phone and all of its fancy features. I decided to log on to the day’s headlines. Because each headline was too long to fit on the screen, it was necessary to click on the one I was interested in and let it scroll by in its entirety. I noticed one headline in particular, and all I could see before scrolling was “Emmett Till’s…” I feared what the rest of the headline would say, and it took me over ten minutes to get the nerve to click on it and read the rest. When I did, my greatest fear was realized: “Emmett Till’s Mother Dies.” I didn’t sleep that night. I got up the next morning, sad and depressed, still feeling tremendous loss. Less than two weeks later I attended the Sundance Film Festival, and the premier of Stanley Nelson’s documentary. It wasn’t quite the same.
Every time Mamie and I got off the phone, she would say to me, “God bless you.” In knowing her, I can honestly say, he certainly did.
Burr Oak Cemetery~Mamie Till-Mobley
"Darling, you have not died in vain. Your life has been sacrificed for something."
The most prominent location at Burr Oak, immediately inside the southeast entrance, is occupied by the crypt of Mamie Till-Mobley (1921-2003), mother of Emmt Till
Gerald Chatham and R. B. Smith, III
Prosecutors in the Emmett Till murder case.
Jim Crow Press at Till Trial
Eight men covering trial in Mississippi for Defender Readers.
Jim Crow Press at Till Trial, Frisk Newsmen
Picking Of Jury Delays Opening
L. ALEX WILSON / Chicago Defender 24sep1955
SUMNER, Miss. — When court adjourned Monday afternoon no jury had been selected to hear the case for and against two men charged with the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, 14-year-old Chicagoan.
But a number of things, many of them precedent making and unusual, had occurred.
Difficulty In selection of the jury can be attributed to several factors:
1. — They had contributed to a defense fund for J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, half brothers charged with the crime.
2. — They were related to attorneys involved in the case or to the defendants.
3. — They had formed definite opinions about the case.
4. — They lived in the area where the crime was committed.
The day opened hot and humid, the heat eventually climbing to an almost unbearable 95 degrees that drove every one including Sheriff H Z Strider to abandon a white sports coat he was wearing when he briefed the press prior to opening of the court.
This correspondent was the only Negro reporter present when the briefing occurred. Strider explained to the more than 100 newsmen present that he had provided seats for 22 white newsmen inside the rail where they could easily hear the proceedings.
The Negro press, he explained, was to be limited to four seats directly behind the rail where the public is seated.
"We don't mix down here," he explained. "and don't intend to start now."
Strider was advised by this writer that the Negro newsmen might not be able to hear proceedings well from their positions. He said "Whenever you are unable to hear just let me know. Well have order in this court."
Sheriff Strider then told the newsmen they would have to go back downstairs and come up the front and into. the courtroom and submit to search.
The reporters were lightly frisk. ed and photographers had to allow deputies to rummage through their camera cases.
"I have received over 150 threatening letters and I don't intend to be shot. If there is any shooting, we would rather he doing it." Here he made reference to himself and to his deputies.
Judge Curtis Swango welcomed the press to the court after calling for order and allowed time before opening for photographers to make pictures. Here a precedent was established when a Negro photographer, J. J. Mason. representing Defender publications, climbed on chairs like other lensmen to get his "shots."
Then the judge laid down the rules for the press and others in the courtroom. No pictures were to be made during the transaction of the business of the court; no sketches; no recordings or broadcast.
He stated that smoking would be allowed and suggested that the men take off their coats for comfort.
Negro spectators numbering approximately 40 were seated and stood in the left rear of the courtroom. Outside of the court room in the corridor a crowd was jammed beneath the door.
The alleged slayers of Emmett L. Till, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were brought into the court accompanied by their wives.
The wives and children arrived at the Sumner courthouse in a green 1955 Chevrolet with a Memphis-Shelby County license No. 294-247.
During the court session the children played about in the court room while both Milam and Bryant sat quietly and without handcuffs. Both of the wives appeared to be slightly worried and not once during the session was a smile noted on either face.
Throughout the morning session both men maintained somber expressions. Milam appeared to be nervous, smoking incessantly and shifting about restlessly in his seat.
While almost the whole panel of 120 veniremen was being exhausted for one reason or another, six whites armed with shot guns were reportedly patrolling the area near Money, Miss., where the crime occurred. The purpose, It is believed, was to find out why so much Negro traffic had been going through the area.
Prosecution attorneys, Gerald Chatham and Roy Smith III, made clear in their challenges to members selected for trial jury that they would press for a fair and impartial trial.
During the vigorous challenges three men were disqualified for contributing to a defense fund to aid the defendant; Six were tossed out for holding fixed opinions of the case and one was ordered to stand aside because he was the brother to one who had contributed to the defense fund. Another was disqualified because he was a distant relative of the defense attorney.
Earlier, Atty. Chatham said in his talk to the prospective jurors, "the State of Mississippi will take every step to see that an impartial and fair trial is held in this case."
When Atty. Smith took over the questioning he asked "Would you be moved by any consideration, race or anything else in helping to see that a fair trial is held?"
This line of questioning was responsible for eliminating most of the first panel selected for jury service.
What appears to be a lead to a sensational development in the Emmett L. Till slaying is now, being investigated. This writer is unable to comment further at this time.
Among the members of the Negro press present were: James Hicks of the Afro American Newspaper and NNPA; Simeon Booker, Clotye Murdock and David Jackson of Ebony; Mrs. Nannie Mitchell Turner, publisher of the St. Louis Argus, Steve Duncan and William B. Franklin of the St. Louis Argus; L. Alex Wilson, (Defender Publications) and Ernest Withers of the same paper.
Among members of the white press present were Clark Porteus of Memphis Press-Scimitar; John Popham of New York Times; Jim Kilgallen of INS; Paul Burton, of INS; Murray Kempton of New York Post; William Desmond, New York Daily News and John Gunter of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
 Definition of veniremen: People who are summoned to the courthouse so that they may be questioned and perhaps chosen as jurors in trials of civil or criminal cases. source: Nolo
Here's Cast For Sumner, Miss. Trial:
Pen Pictures Of Judge, Attorneys
Chicago Defender 24sep1955
CLARKSDALE, Miss — "Judge Curtis Swango is one judge who runs his court." That statement was made by W. M. Simpson editor of the Sumner Sentinel, when he was queried about the Circuit court jurist who u on the bench during the Till trial in Sumner.
When this writer contacted Judge Swango in Sardis, (he had been expected in Sumner) Simpson's statement carried little doubt.
He expressed himself in a deep rich voice which carried authority and professional cordiality.
Judge Swango is quite youthful, but a veteran in the field of Law He is 47 and has served in the Mississippi legislature for 15 years. His prep school study was done at Sardis, where he is now residing.
He is a graduate of Millsap college, Jackson, Miss, and received his LL.B. degree from the University of Mississippi. He has been serving now four years as a wrist.
While in the Mississippi legislature, he served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. lie has been married for 12 years.
Judge Swango was praised highly by residents of Sumner and of Memphis for his fairness toward the Negro. The consensus is "He's a fine man."
HERNANDO, Miss. — The 49-year-old prosecutor for the Emmett L. Till case is a deliberate straight talking man with a serious mem [sic] and a kindly look in his piercing eyes.
You have probably heard of him and will be reading and hearing quite a bit more.
He is District Attorney Gerald Chatman, of Hernando, Miss., who leaves one with the impression that his burden is heavy, but that be is determined to follow through with it.
Tall broad-shouldered and heavy-set, he had the dignity befitting a man of his profession. His conversational speech reflects culture.
In addition to the answer he gives to the questions asked one notes three things about him (1) the alertness and steadiness of his eyes as he speaks directly (2) the sincerely in the overtones and undertones of his voice (3) the cautious fluency of reply.
TO DO RIGHT THING
When asked to comment on the opinion prevalent that the trial would be whitewashed he said: "I am leaving office in December because of ill health and on the advice of my doctor. I am going to do what is right in this case," he emphasized.
He added "I am not doing to do anything that is a departure from my record." Chatman was extremely modest about commenting on his record with regard to Negroes during his long tenure of service
"I suggest," he said, "that you talk with any of your people who know me. Better still, I tell you what to do. Talk with Sam P. Nesbitt, of the NAACP here."
A check about the Community and in Memphis, which is only about 30 miles from Hernando, revealed that he is highly respect-ed for his fairness,
Chatman has served as district attorney for 14 years, the longest period any one has held the office in the third district. He first completed the unexpired term of Jamie Whitten, who was elected to Congress from the district.
Then, Atty. Chatham was elected to office three times without opposition. His fourth term expires in December.
He received his LL.B. degree from the University of Mississippi in 1931. Married now 23 years, he is the father of four children. His father-in-law, Herbert Holmes, is Chancery court judge.
GETS GOOD ASSISTANTS
District Attorney Chatman, due to ill health, will be assisted in his prosecution of the Till case by a lawyer described as brilliant and outstanding in the field.
He is Special Asst. that. Atty. Gen. Robert B Smith III, of Ripley, Miss. Smith is a former FBI man and was appointed by Gov. Hugh White.
Asked whether any Negroes would be impaneled to serve on the jury, Atty. Chatman said "there is not a qualified Negro elector in Tallahatchie County. Only qualified electors are called for jury service."
He pointed out that a venire of 165 men were being called for service, from which 12 would be selected for duty. Each one of the 12 will be checked thoroughly by the prosecution he said
Chatham stated that he and his assistant, Atty. Smith III as of Sept 31 had not decided on whether they would ask for the maxi-, mum penalty.
Added late Saturday to the prosecution was Hamilton Caldwell. for four terms attorney for Tallahatchie county He is a native of Charleston, Miss., where he now resides.
SUMNER, Miss — Bespectacled Atty. J. J. Breland, of Sumner, Miss., defense attorney in the Emmett L. Till case appears to be a rather amiable person. Now 65 years of age, and of medium height, he has been practicing law for 40 years."
He expressed himself quite free by when questioned by a Defender reporter.
Atty. Breland appeared to be proud of the fact he had lined up four of "the best lawyers in Sumner" to assist him.
They are Attys. J. W. Kellum, of Tutwiler, with offices at Sumner; C. Sidney Carlton of Sumner; Harvey Henderson of Sumner; and John W. Whitten. jr. Whitten. Jr. of Sumner, who is a cousin of Congressman Jamie Whitten.
Breland volunteered praise of the prosecution in the case Attys. Gerald Chatham and R. B. Smith III.
"I know them both," he said, "they are outstanding men."
The defense lawyer attended prep school at Hattiesburg, Miss He received his BS degree from the University of Mississippi, and his LL.B. Degree from the University of Mississippi.
He cites as one of his outstanding achievements in criminal law the defense of M. P. Studivant, of Glendoraw, Miss., who was involved in a slaying in 1941.
When asked whether he expected the prosecution to ask for the maximum sentence in the Till case he said: "yes I do."
He pointed out that no 'Nigras' are qualified to serve on the jury, since there are no Negro register ed voters in the County.
Breland has been married 37 years, but the couple have no children. He is a veteran of World War II, in which he served as a first Lieutenant.
9 Witnesses Called For Prosecution
Chicago Defender 24sep1955
SUMNER, Miss. — Mose Wright, uncle of the lynched Emmett Tell, and his mother Mrs. Mamie Bradley of Chicago will be among
the prosecution's witnesses at the trial that opened here Monday.
On trial are J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, indicted for the murder of the Chicago youngster who was kidnpped and lynched as he allegedly wolf whistled at Bryant's wife.
Other witnesses who have been summoned to testify for the state are: Sheriff George Smith, of Leflore county; Deputy Sheriff E. Cothran, of Laflore county; Sheriff H. C. Strider of Tallahatchie county; Simeon Wright, nephew of Till; Dr. T. B.. Otkin, a medical specialist of Greenwood, Miss.; Mayor Chick Nelson of Tutwiller, Miss. and Garland Melton, deputy sheriff of Sumner.
Chief defense attorney J. J. Breland, refused to disclose who would be summoned to testify for the defense.
Sumner Unhappy Over Trial
Don't Want Mess Here, They Say
by L. ALEX WILSON / Chicago Defender 24sep1955
SUMNER. Miss.—This quiet little cotton Delta town, population 527 with approximately 50 percent Negroes, was not tense on the eve of the Emmett L. Till trial, but quite widespread was a deep feeling of resentment.
The resentment was over the "dumping of the trial on our town when we had nothing
to do with the heinous crime This writer talked with several white citizens and in each Instance found evidence of cordiality and either mute resentment over the trial site, dictated by law, or um restrained vocal expression abs it
W. M. Simpson, editor of the Sumner Sentinel said "There are two things we don't like about the case. The outside interference and the fact that the trial, though required by law, will be held here "
"You have been given friendly treatment since you've been here haven't you?" he asked. I admitted I had.
He pointed out that the two races had been getting along together in Sumner.
Roy Moyer, owner of a dry goods store on the main street described the slaying of Till as "heinous and unnecessary."
But, he made it quite clear he didn't like the manner in which the nation's press by large had handled the Till case, nor the interference from "rabble-rousing groups."
He charged that similar crimes occur in large cities of the North. ''Mississippi is a sovereign state and has shown that it will handle this case. We don't like meddling from outsiders "
One youthful white man said briefly: 'We don't like notoriety being brought to our town by this trial."
Al Thomas, a deputy sheriff was cordial but made no comment on the trial.
Circuit Court Clerk Mrs Rogers gave assistance in getting facts from the records. However, there appeared some distaste for the trial in the courthouse.
Mrs. Nellie J. Mabrey, well-known and well-liked Negro home demonstration agent in Tallahatchie county with headquarters in Charleston, Miss. (northern part of the county) stated that she had not detected any tension over the trial. Mrs Mabrey had been working to the county for 18 years.
Each year she stages a huge 4-H Day rally which is loyally supported and endorsed by white and colored. Mrs. Mabrey has one daughter, Mrs Valda L. Pandy, an optometrist who resides in Chicago at 3745 South Parkway.
Unless there is an unusual development in Sumner, visitors here for the trial will find the residents cordial and some friendly.