California Eagle, Thursday, January 26, 1956
[p.1]Mrs. Bryant Didn’t Even
Hear Emmett Till Whistle
(This is the story of a boy who was killed for something he didn’t do—the first of a series of articles telling the true story of the murder of Emmett Till. The writer is a white newspaperman who doesn’t use his true name but who covered the trial. As a Southerner he talked freely to those who knew what happened.)
The Truth, the Whole Truth!
Last week Look Magazine published J. W. Milam’s version of how, and why, he and his half brother, Roy Bryant, killed 14-year-old Emmett Till in Tallahatchie county, Miss., last Aug 28. Look says it is ready to back up its article “in the unlikely event” that J. W. Milam, or Roy Bryant, sue it for libel. Milam won’t sue. Bryant won’t sue. They dare not. They did kill Emmett Till.
Besides, Milam is pretty well satisfied with the article. “I’ll say one thing for the article,” he grinned to newsmen last week. “It was written from a Mississippi viewpoint. I’ve gotten a lot of letters from people commending me for what Look said I did.”
The “Mississippi viewpoint” that pleased Milam so much was that the story told Milam’s version of how Emmett molested Roy Bryant’s wife and of how Till boasted about the white women he had “had.” Moreover the story shielded others who had taken part in the murder. That suits J. W. Milam just fine. But that isn’t the truth.
Beginning this week the Eagle tells the full, and complete story, of the Emmett Till murder, just as it happened from a “truth viewpoint.”
BY AMOS DIXON
It was hot. Unbearably hot. It always is in LeFlore County Mississippi, in the late August afternoons. And it was Wednesday afternoon, August 24, 1955, this day we’re talking about.
The five kids were just killing time, fooling around Mose Wright’s farm, trying to find something to do, trying to keep cool. One of them suggested that they go over to Roy Bryant’s store in Money and “buy something.” The rest agreed. Why not? How could they know that they were setting the stage for a murder that would rock the nation?
Emmett Till (he who would be murdered) was all for going to the store. He had a little money in his pocket given him by his mother, Mamie Bradley, when he left Chicago to visit his Uncle Mose Wright. Like most 14-year-olds he liked to spend whatever he had.
Cross Roads Store
The oldest of those five kids was Wheeler Parker, age 16, Mose Wright’s grandson. He was from Chicago. There were Mose’s two sons, Maurice, 15, and Simeon, 14. Roosevelt Crawford, 15, a neighbor boy, was with them. And then there was Emmett Till, age 14, nicknamed Bobo. They got to the store about 6:30.
Roy Bryant’s store is 2.8 miles from Mose Wright’s farm. The geography books say the store
[p.2] is in the town of Money. But Money isn’t really a town. It is just a wide place in the road. The store is the usual crossroads southern store, unkempt, ill stocked, with a haphazard collection of groceries, meats and canned goods on its shelves.
Carolyn Bryant, Roy’s wife, was keeping the store when the kids got there. The store doesn’t, or didn’t (it is closed now) belong to Roy Bryant. It belonged to Roy’s half-brother, J. W. Milam, a heavy set bully boy who had learned to kill when he served in the army in France and who enjoys throwing his weight around.
When the kids got to the store they found at least five, maybe eight or nine men, all Negroes, hanging around playing checkers on the ramshackle front porch. Cotton had been laid by. It wasn’t ready to pick just yet and the men had nothing much to do on the farms and plantations. Carolyn was inside tending the store. Her two children were playing around, nobody knows just where. Roy was in Texas where he had driven a truck for J. W.
Buys Bubble Gum
After a certain amount of sparring around, Emmet[t] Till went into the store and bought some bubble gum. Take a look at Emmett. He was 14 but rather large for his size. He had suffered from infantile paralysis a few years before and, as a consequence, had been babied by his mother. He had even slept in the same bed with her until he was over 13. His father died when he was a baby. He wasn’t right, bright, Mose would later tell a jury.
Infantile paralysis had left Emmett with a stutter in his speech. He was self conscious, both because of his size and because of his speech defect. Other children thoughtlessly chided him about his stuttering and kidded him about his size. He liked to try to get along with people so he wouldn’t be the butt of jokes and kidding. He tried to cover up his defects with a little swaggering.
When he left the store he turned to Carolyn Bryant and stuttered out a “g-g-good bye.” Carolyn Bryant didn’t like that. She’s a poor white with little education, married at 17, living in the rear of a store with no TV to keep her company, no car to give her status. She bristled. Some say she went to her car and got a gun. But nothing happened. That was as much as the kids wanted. They began to ride Emmett.
Could Get Killed
“Don’t you know you don’t say goodbye to white ladies in Mississippi?” one of them demanded. “Why man, you could get lynched for that.” Cruel? Of course, but the kids were just having fun.
Right away Emmett, as he usually did in such cases, got on the defensive. He stuttered something about “things being different in Chicago” where he came from. He said boastfully, why, he went to school with white girls. He even went out with them, he said.
Then one of the kids said the words that were to trigger a tragedy, a tragedy that wouldn’t end until Emmett’s bruised body was thrown into the muddy Tallahatchie River with a 90-pound cotton gin fan barb-wired to his neck.
“How does she look to you?” the questioner asked, nodding in the direction of Carolyn Bryant, who was inside the store.
Emmett rallied all of his frail stock of bravado. He gave a wolf whistle, like he had heard a hundred times in Chicago when a shapely woman passed a bunch of street corner loafers. Or like you hear on TV shows, or on the radio, or in the movies.
The eight or nine Negro hangers-on who were sitting around the store’s front porch heard him whistle and knew why he had whistled. The kids heard him. They knew why he whistled.
Didn’t Hear Him
But Carolyn Bryant did not hear that wolf whistle!
She was inside the store. It was hot, she was tired and she was irritated after a long day at the store.
Nothing happened that afternoon to offend her in the slightest degree!
Of course, the Negroes, men and children alike, were startled to hear a Negro boy wolf whistle in connection with a white woman in Mississippi. But since Carolyn Bryant hadn’t heard what would undoubtedly be “an insult to white womanhood” in the illiterate back stretches of Mississippi, there was no alarm among them.
The kids finally drifted away, to their various homes. The front porch loafers eventually went home. The incident seemed to be closed.
The next day, Emmett and some of the kids went back to the store, to “fool around” and buy cokes and bubble gum. There were some loafers there again that day, some new ones, some who had been there the day before. Nobody mentioned the wolf whistle. It had been forgotten, that is forgotten by everybody but one Negro loafer.
That one loafer who hadn’t forgotten wanted to curry favor with Roy Bryant, either to get some credit, or cadge a favor, or just to keep in good with the white folks. Who knows?
Snitches on Emmett
Anyhow when Roy Bryant returned from Texas, Friday, August 26, the Negro snitch told him that the “Chicago boy” had whistled at Carolyn.
Roy Bryant is a weakling, the youngest of a batch of boys, brothers and half brothers. Three of them are Bryant’s, five are Milam’s. Left to his own devices, Roy would probably have done nothing. He has never done much of anything in his short 24 years except toady to his half brother, J. W.
J. W. Milam is not only the bully boy of the family. He is the strong man to whom all the brothers turn in times of crisis. So Roy went scurrying to J. W. Saturday, August 27, and told him the wolf whistle story. J. W. lives in Glendora, about 20 miles from Money.
J. W. sprang into action. He likes to think, and say, that he “knows niggers.” He likes to talk about how he pistol whipped German prisoners in the war to get information out of them. He brought a .45 Colt home with him and he likes to carry it and swagger around while be boasts his prowess.
Lays Out Plan
J. W. Milam at once laid out a plan to take Emmett Till out early Sunday morning and give him a good “pistol whipping.” Roy Bryant was all for the plan; he’s for whatever J. W. suggests. That plan also included participation by two other Milam brothers, Leslie who lives in the town of Drew in Sunflower county, and another brother who has never been completely identified.
About 2 o’clock Sunday morning, Aug. 28, three full days after the wolf-whistling incident, a Chevrolet truck belonging to J. W. Milam drew up in front of Mose Wright’s farm. J. W. Milam, Roy Bryant, Leslie Milam and the unidentified Milam brother were riding in the cab of the truck. There was another man on that truck, too.
That other man was a Negro. Henry Lee Loggins. Henry Lee is 28 years old. He lives in Glendora, too, where J. W. lives. He has worked for J. W. for 12 years and whatever J. W. says is gospel as far as Loggins is concerned. He was along to see that Emmett Till didn’t jump off the truck and run once he was placed there.
No Murder Planned
In all fairness to Henry Lee, it must be said that he did not know that he was about to become an accessory to murder, when he rode the truck to Mose Wright’s farm. The Milams and their weakling half brother, Roy Bryant, had made no plans to kill Emmett Till.
As Mose Wright said later, “a lot of white folks whip colored children there when they step out of place. We never thought anything about it. It didn’t hurt the children much.”
When they went after Emmett they intended to pistol whip, scare him, and eventually turn him loose as an “example” to other “uppity” Negroes who were wanting to vote and talk-
[p.4] ing about the Supreme Court’s school decision.
Roy Bryant walked up to Mose Wright’s side door.
“Preacher,” he yelled, “Preacher, open up.”
“Who’s there?”, Mose eventually responded.
“It’s Mr. Bryant,” Roy answered back.
Mose Wright opened the door of his falling-down cabin.
Opened it to murder, to the brutal, wanton murder of a handicapped 14-year-old boy—Emmett Till.
(Next week: Why did the Milams and Roy Bryant change their minds and kill Emmett Till? What part did Henry Lee Loggins play in the killing? Another Negro will step out on the stage, too, and play his part in the brutal murder.)