History Homework

Question 1: Tyson argues, “Race worked in different ways in Chicago than it did in Mississippi, but there were similarities.” Do you agree with the author? How was northern society similar or different from southern society regarding racial issues? Use specific examples from the book.

Question 2: In The Blood of Emmett Till, the role of the media is a central component of the story. Explain the role of the media before, during, and after the trial. How did newspapers and magazines shape the public response to the Till murder and trial?

N.B: You have to refer yourself to the book and use evidence from the book.

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1.  Nothing That Boy Did

2.  Boots on the Porch

3.  Growing Up Black in Chicago

4.  Emmett in Chicago and “Little Mississippi”

5.  Pistol-Whipping at Christmas

6.  The Incident

7.  On the Third Day

8.  Mama Made the Earth Tremble

9.  Warring Regiments of Mississippi

10.  Black Monday

11.  People We Don’t Need Around Here Any More

12.  Fixed Opinions

13.  Mississippi Underground

14.  “There He Is”

15.  Every Last Anglo-Saxon One of You

16.  The Verdict of the World

17.  Protest Politics

18.  Killing Emmett Till

 Epilogue: The Children of Emmett Till


 About Timothy B. Tyson




for my brother Vern

My name is being called on the road to freedom. I can hear the
blood of Emmett Till as it calls from the ground. . . .When shall
we go? Not tomorrow! Not at high noon! Now!

REVEREND SAMUEL WELLS, Albany, Georgia, 1962



The older woman sipped her coffee. “I have thought and thought

about everything about Emmett Till, the killing and the trial, telling
who did what to who,” she said.1 Back when she was twenty-one and
her name was Carolyn Bryant, the French newspaper Aurore dubbed
the dark-haired young woman from the Mississippi Delta “a
crossroads Marilyn Monroe.”2 News reporters from Detroit to Dakar
never failed to sprinkle their stories about l’affaire Till with words like
“comely” and “fetching” to describe her. William Bradford Huie, the
Southern journalist and dealer in tales of the Till lynching, called her
“one of the prettiest black-haired Irish women I ever saw in my life.”3

Almost eighty and still handsome, her hair now silver, the former Mrs.
Roy Bryant served me a slice of pound cake, hesitated a little, and
then murmured, seeming to speak to herself more than to me,
“They’re all dead now anyway.” She placed her cup on the low glass
table between us, and I waited.

For one epic moment half a century earlier, Carolyn Bryant’s face
had been familiar across the globe, forever attached to a crime of
historic notoriety and symbolic power. The murder of Emmett Till was
reported in one of the very first banner headlines of the civil rights era
and launched the national coalition that fueled the modern civil rights
movement. But she had never opened her door to a journalist or
historian, let alone invited one for cake and coffee. Now she looked
me in the eyes, trying hard to distinguish between fact and
remembrance, and told me a story that I did not know.

The story I thought I knew began in 1955, fifty years earlier, when
Carolyn Bryant was twenty-one and a fourteen-year-old black boy
from Chicago walked into the Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in a
rural Mississippi Delta hamlet and offended her. Perhaps on a dare,
the boy touched or even squeezed her hand when he exchanged money
for candy, asked her for a date, and said goodbye when he left the
store, tugged along by an older cousin. Few news writers who told the
story of the black boy and the backwoods beauty failed to mention
the “wolf whistle” that came next: when an angry Carolyn walked out
to a car to retrieve the pistol under the seat, Till supposedly whistled
at her.

The world knew this story only because of what happened a few
days later: Carolyn’s kinsmen, allegedly just her husband and brother-
in-law, kidnapped and killed the boy and threw his body in the
Tallahatchie River. That was supposed to be the end of it. Lesson
taught. But a young fisherman found Till’s corpse in the water, and a
month later the world watched Roy Bryant and J. W. “Big” Milam
stand trial for his murder.

I knew the painful territory well because when I was eleven years
old in the small tobacco market town of Oxford, North Carolina, a
friend’s father and brothers beat and shot a young black man to death.
His name was Henry Marrow, and the events leading up to his death
had something in common with Till’s. My father, a white Methodist
minister, got mixed up in efforts to bring peace and justice to the
community. We moved away that summer. But Oxford burned on in
my memory, and I later went back and interviewed the man most
responsible for Marrow’s death. He told me, “That nigger committed
suicide, coming in my store and wanting to four-letter-word my
daughter-in-law.” I also talked with many of those who had protested
the murder by setting fire to the huge tobacco warehouses in
downtown Oxford, as well as witnesses to the killing, townspeople,
attorneys, and others. Seeking to understand what had happened in
my own hometown made me a historian. I researched the case for
years, on my way to a PhD in American history, and in 2004
published a book about Marrow’s murder, what it meant for my
hometown and my family, and how it revealed the workings of race in

American history.4 Carolyn Bryant Donham had read the book, which
was why she decided to contact me and talk with me about the
lynching of Emmett Till.

The killing of Henry Marrow occurred in 1970, fifteen years after
the Till lynching, but unlike the Till case it never entered national or
international awareness, even though many of the same themes were
present. Like Till, Marrow had allegedly made a flirtatious remark to
a young white woman at her family’s small rural store. In Oxford,
though, the town erupted into arson and violence, the fires visible for
miles. An all-white jury, acting on what they doubtless perceived to be
the values of the white community, acquitted both of the men charged
in the case, even though the murder had occurred in public. What
happened in Oxford in 1970 was a late-model lynching, in which
white men killed a black man in the service of white supremacy. The
all-white jury ratified the murder as a gesture of protest against public
school integration, which had finally begun in Oxford, and underlying
much of the white protest was fear and rage at the prospect of white
and black children going to school together, which whites feared
would lead to other forms of “race-mixing,” even “miscegenation.”

As in the Marrow case, many white people believed Till had
violated this race-and-sex taboo and therefore had it coming. Many
news reports asserted that Till had erred—in judgment, in behavior, in
deed, and perhaps in thought. Without justifying the murder, a
number of Southern newspapers argued that the boy was at least
partially at fault. The most influential account of the lynching, Huie’s
1956 presumptive tell-all, depicted a black boy who virtually
committed suicide with his arrogant responses to his assailants.
“Boastful, brash,” Huie described Till. He “had a white girl’s picture
in his pocket and boasted of having screwed her,” not just to friends,
not just to Carolyn Bryant, but also to his killers: “That is why they
took him out and killed him.”5 The story was told and retold in many
ways, but a great many of them, from the virulently defensive
accounts of Mississippi and its customs to the self-righteous screeds of
Northern critics, noted that Till had been at the wrong place at the
wrong time and made the wrong choices.

Until recently historians did not even have a transcript of the 1955
trial. It went missing soon after the trial ended, turning up briefly in
the early 1960s but then destroyed in a basement flood. In September
2004 FBI agents located a faded “copy of a copy of a copy” in a
private home in Biloxi, Mississippi. It took weeks for two clerks to
transcribe the entire document, except for one missing page.6 The
transcript, finally released in 2007, allows us to compare the later
recollections of witnesses and defendants with what they said fifty
years earlier. It also reveals that Carolyn Bryant told an even harder-
edged story in the courtroom, one that was difficult to square with the
gentle woman sitting across from me at the coffee table.

Half a century earlier, above the witness stand in the Tallahatchie
County Courthouse, two ceiling fans slowly churned the cigarette
smoke. This was the stage on which the winner of beauty contests at
two high schools starred as the fairest flower of Southern
womanhood. She testified that Till had grabbed her hand forcefully
across the candy counter, letting go only when she snatched it away.
He asked her for a date, she said, chased her down the counter,
blocked her path, and clutched her narrow waist tightly with both

She told the court he said, “You needn’t be afraid of me. [I’ve],
well, ——with white women before.” According to the transcript, the
delicate young woman refused to utter the verb or even tell the court
what letter of the alphabet it started with. She escaped Till’s forceful
grasp only with great difficulty, she said.7 A month later one
Mississippi newspaper insisted that the case should never have been
called the “wolf whistle case.” Instead, said the editors, it should have
been called “an ‘attempted rape’ case.”8

“Then this other nigger came in from the store and got him by the
arm,” Carolyn testified. “And he told him to come on and let’s go. He
had him by the arm and led him out.” Then came an odd note in her
tale, a note discordant with the claim of aborted assault: Till stopped
in the doorway, “turned around and said, ‘Goodbye.’ ”9

The defendants sat on the court’s cane-bottom chairs in a room
packed with more than two hundred white men and fifty or sixty
African Americans who had been crowded into the last two rows and

the small, segregated black press table. In his closing statement, John
W. Whitten, counsel for the defendants, told the all-white, all-male
jury, “I’m sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage
to free these men, despite this [outside] pressure.”10

Mamie Bradley,I Till’s mother, was responsible for a good deal of
that outside pressure on Mississippi’s court system. Her brave decision
to hold an open-casket funeral for her battered son touched off news
stories across the globe. The resultant international outrage compelled
the U.S. State Department to lament “the real and continuing damage
to American foreign policy from such tragedies as the Emmett Till
case.”11 Her willingness to travel anywhere to speak about the tragedy
helped to fuel a huge protest movement that pulled together the
elements of a national civil rights movement, beginning with the
political and cultural power of black Chicago. The movement became
the most important legacy of the story.12 Her memoir of the case,
Death of Innocence, published almost fifty years after her son’s
murder, lets us see him as a human being, not merely the victim of one
of the most notorious hate crimes in history.13

•  •  •

As I sat drinking her coffee and eating her pound cake, Carolyn
Bryant Donham handed me a copy of the trial transcript and the
manuscript of her unpublished memoir, “More than a Wolf Whistle:
The Story of Carolyn Bryant Donham.” I promised to deliver our
interview and these documents to the appropriate archive, where
future scholars would be able to use them. In her memoir she recounts
the story she told at the trial using imagery from the classic Southern
racist horror movie of the “Black Beast” rapist.14 But about her
testimony that Till had grabbed her around the waist and uttered
obscenities, she now told me, “That part’s not true.”

A son of the South and the son of a minister, I have sat in countless
such living rooms that had been cleaned for guests, Sunday clothes on,
an unspoken deference running young to old, men to women, and,
very often, dark skin to light. As a historian I have collected a lot of
oral histories in the South and across all manner of social lines.

Manners matter a great deal, and the personal questions that oral
history requires are sometimes delicate. I was comfortable with the
setting but rattled by her revelation, and I struggled to phrase my next
question. If that part was not true, I asked, what did happen that
evening decades earlier?

“I want to tell you,” she said. “Honestly, I just don’t remember. It
was fifty years ago. You tell these stories for so long that they seem
true, but that part is not true.” Historians have long known about the
complex reliability of oral history—of virtually all historical sources,
for that matter—and the malleability of human memory, and her
confession was in part a reflection of that. What does it mean when
you remember something that you know never happened? She had
pondered that question for many years, but never aloud in public or in
an interview. When she finally told me the story of her life and starkly
different and much larger tales of Emmett Till’s death, it was the first
time in half a century that she had uttered his name outside her family.

Not long afterward I had lunch in Jackson, Mississippi, with Jerry
Mitchell, the brilliant journalist at the Clarion-Ledger whose sleuthing
has solved several cold case civil rights–era murders. I talked with him
about my efforts to write about the Till case, and he shared some
thoughts of his own. A few days after our lunch a manila envelope
with a Mississippi return address brought hard proof that “that part,”
as Carolyn had called the alleged assault, had never been true.

Mitchell had sent me copies of the handwritten notes of what
Carolyn Bryant told her attorney on the day after Roy and J.W. were
arrested in 1955. In this earliest recorded version of events, she
charged only that Till had “insulted” her, not grabbed her, and
certainly not attempted to rape her. The documents prove that there
was a time when she did seem to know what had happened, and a
time soon afterward when she became the mouthpiece of a monstrous

Now, half a century later, Carolyn offered up another truth, an
unyielding truth about which her tragic counterpart, Mamie, was also
adamant: “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to

I. Mamie Carthan became Mamie Till after her marriage to Louis Till in 1940, which ended
with his death in 1945. Mamie Till became Mamie Mallory after a brief remarriage in 1946.
Her name changed to Bradley after another marriage in 1951. She was Mamie Bradley during
most of the years covered by this book. She married one last time in 1957, becoming Mamie
Till-Mobley, under which name she published her 2004 memoir. To avoid confusion, and also
to depict her as a human being rather than an icon, I generally refer to her by her first name.
No disrespect is intended. The same is true of Emmett Till and Carolyn Bryant.



It was probably the gunshot-thud of boots on the porch that pulled

Reverend Moses Wright out of a deep sleep about two in the morning
on Sunday, August 28, 1955.1 Wright was a sixty-four-year-old
sharecropper, short and wiry with thick hands and a hawksbill nose.
An ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ, Wright
sometimes preached at the concrete-block church tucked into a cedar
thicket just a half mile away; most people called him “Preacher.”
Twenty-five white-tufted acres of cotton, almost ready for harvest,
stretched out behind his unpainted clapboard house in a pitch-black
corner of the Mississippi Delta called East Money.2 He had lived his
entire life in the Delta, and he had never had any trouble with white
people before.

The old but well-built house would be called a “shack” in a certain
stripe of sympathetic news story, but it was the nicest tenant house on
the G. C. Frederick Plantation. Mr. Frederick respected Reverend
Wright and let his family occupy the low-slung four-bedroom house
where he had lived himself before he built the main house. Its tin roof
sloped toward the persimmon and cedar trees that lined the dusty
road out front. A pleasant screened-in porch ran its entire face. From
the porch two front doors opened directly into two front bedrooms;
there were two smaller bedrooms stacked behind those.3

The accounts of what happened in the Wright home that morning
vary slightly, but the interviews given to reporters soon after the event
seem to be the most reliable. “Preacher! Preacher!” someone bellowed

from inside the screened porch. It was a white man’s voice. Wright sat
up in bed. “This is Mr. Bryant,” said another white man. “We want to
talk to the boy. We’re here to talk to you about that boy from
Chicago, the one that done the talking up at Money.”4 Wright thought
about grabbing his shotgun from the closet; instead he pulled on his
overalls and work boots and prepared to step outside.5

Still asleep were his three sons, Simeon, Robert, and Maurice; his
wife, Elizabeth; and three boys from Chicago visiting for the summer:
his two grandsons, Curtis Jones and Wheeler Parker Jr.; and his
nephew Emmett, whom they all called “Bobo.” Somehow Wright had
gotten wind of a story involving Bobo at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat
Market in Money. At first Wright had feared trouble might come of it,
but the vague details seemed trifling and convinced him that
repercussions were unlikely.6 Otherwise he would have put his niece’s
boy on the next train home. Now that he had angry white men at his
door, he decided to stall, hoping that Bobo would scamper out the
back door and hide. Then Wright would tell the men that the boy had
taken the train for Chicago on Saturday morning. “Who is it?” he
called out.7

In the darkness Wright heard rather than saw Elizabeth head
quickly for the two back rooms to wake the boys. Simeon slept in one
of the blue metal beds with his beloved cousin Bobo.8 Robert slept in
another bed in the same room. Curtis stayed by himself in the other
back room. In the second front bedroom the two sixteen-year-olds,
Wheeler and Maurice, shared a bed. Eight people in mortal danger.9

Elizabeth later told reporters, “We knew they were out to mob the
boy.” There was neither time nor necessity to talk about what to do.
Her only recourse was obvious: “When I heard the men at the door, I
ran to Emmett’s room and tried to wake him so I could get him out
the back door and into the cotton fields.”

Wright slowly stepped out of his bedroom and onto the porch,
closing the door behind him. In front of him stood a familiar white
man, six feet two inches and weighing 250 pounds. “That man was
Milam,” the minister said later. “I could see his bald head. I would
know him again anywhere. I would know him if I met him in

Texas.”10 In his left hand the imposing Milam carried a heavy five-cell
flashlight. He hefted a U.S. Army .45 automatic in his right.11

Wright did not recognize the rugged-looking man, six feet tall and
perhaps 190 pounds, who had identified himself as “Mr. Bryant” and
stood just behind Milam, though his small grocery store was not three
miles distant.12 Wright could see that he, too, carried a U.S. Army .45.
When both men pushed past him into the house, he could smell them;
at that point they had been drinking for hours.13

Standing by the door just inside the screened porch, a third man
turned his head to one side and down low, “like he didn’t want me to
see him, and I didn’t see him to recognize him,” the preacher said.14

Wright assumed the third man was black because he stayed in the
shadows, silent: “He acted like a colored man.”15 This was likely one
of the black men who worked for Milam. Or, if Wright’s intuition was
mistaken, it might have been a family friend of the Milam-Bryant
family, Elmer Kimbell or Hubert Clark, or their brother-in-law Melvin

Echoing Bryant, Milam said, “We want to see the boy from

Wright slowly and deliberately opened the other bedroom door, the
one leading into the front guest room where the two sixteen-year-olds
slept. The small room quickly became crowded and thick with the
odors of whiskey and sweat; faces, guns, and furnishings were caught
in the shaky and sparse illumination of Milam’s flashlight. “The house
was as dark as a thousand midnights,” Wheeler Parker recalled. “You
couldn’t see. It was like a nightmare. I mean—I mean someone come
stand over you with a pistol in one hand and a flashlight, and you’re
sixteen years old, it’s a terrifying experience.”18

Milam and Bryant told Wright to turn on some lights, but Wright
only mumbled something about the lights being broken.19 The wash
of the flashlight swept from Maurice to Wheeler and back to Wright.
The white men moved on. “They asked where the boy from Chicago
was,” recalled Maurice.20

“We marched around through two rooms,” Wright recounted.
Milam and Bryant, clearly impatient, may have suspected Wright was
stalling. Elizabeth had moved quickly to wake Emmett, but he moved

far too slowly. “They were already in the front door before I could
shake him awake,” she said.21

Now the two white men stood over the blue metal bedstead where
the fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago lay with his cousin. “Are you
the one who did the smart talking up at Money?” Milam demanded.

“Yeah,” said Emmett.
“Well, that was my sister-in-law and I won’t stand for it. And don’t

say ‘Yeah’ to me or I’ll blow your head off. Get your clothes on.”
Milam told Simeon to close his eyes and go back to sleep, while
Emmett pulled on a white T-shirt, charcoal gray pants, and black

Elizabeth offered them money if they would leave the boy alone.
Curtis thought Bryant might have accepted if he had been there
without his burly half-brother, but Milam yelled, “Woman, you get
back in the bed, and I want to hear them springs squeak.” With
unimaginable poise Wright quietly explained that the boy had suffered
from polio as a child and had never been quite right. He meant no
harm, but he just didn’t have good sense. “Why not give the boy a
good whipping and leave it at that? He’s only fourteen and he’s from
up North.”23

Milam turned to Wright and asked, “How old are you, Preacher?”
Wright answered that he was sixty-four. “You make any trouble,”

said Milam, “and you’ll never live to be sixty-five.”24

Milam and Bryant hauled the sleepy child out the front door
toward a vehicle waiting beyond the trees in the moonless Mississippi
night. Wright could hear the doors being opened, though no interior
light came on; then he thought he heard a voice ask “Is this the boy?”
and another voice answer “Yes.” He and others later speculated that
Carolyn Bryant had been in the vehicle and had identified Emmett,
thereby becoming an accessory to murder. But besides being dark it
was hard to hear the low voices through the trees, and Wright told
reporters at the time, “I don’t know if it was a lady’s voice or not.”
The vehicle pulled away without its headlights on, and nobody in the
house could tell whether it was a truck or a sedan.

After he heard the tires crackling through the gravel, Wright
stepped out into the yard alone and stared toward Money for a long




It was Reverend Wright who started the three Chicago boys, Emmett,

Curtis, and Wheeler, thinking about going to Mississippi that summer
of 1955, only a few days after Emmett turned fourteen. A former
parishioner, Robert Jones, who was the father-in-law of Wright’s
daughter, Willie Mae, had passed away in Chicago, and the family
asked Wright to conduct the funeral. While he was up north it was
decided that he would bring Wheeler and Emmett back to Mississippi
with him and that Curtis would join them soon afterward.1

The image of Wright in Chicago is one of the more pleasing in this
hard story. While he was in town he rode the elevated train, toured the
enormous Merchandise Mart and the downtown Loop, and gazed out
from atop the 462-foot Tribune Tower, which featured stones from the
Great Pyramid, the Alamo, and the Great Wall of China, among other
famous constructions. He enjoyed the sights but was hardly
dumbstruck. The city had its glories, he acknowledged, but he boasted
of the simple pleasures of rural life in the Delta. Four rivers—the
Yazoo, the Sunflower, the Yalobusha, and the Tallahatchie—passed
near his Mississippi home, and there were seven deep lakes. This
surely offered the best fishing in the world.2 His stories enchanted
Emmett. “For a free-spirited boy who lived to be outdoors,” Emmett’s
mother, Mamie, said, “there was so much possibility, so much
adventure in the Mississippi his great-uncle described.” Although
Mamie originally refused to let him go south, she soon relented under

a barrage of pressure from Emmett, who recruited support from the
extended family.3

One stock theme in stories of Emmett Till is that, being from the
North, he died in Mississippi because he just didn’t know any better.
How was a boy from Chicago supposed to know anything about
segregation or the battle lines laid down by white supremacy? It is
tempting to paint him, as his mother did, as innocent of the perilous
boundaries of race; her reasons for doing so made sense at the time,
even though being fourteen and abducted at gunpoint by adults would
seem evidence enough of his innocence. But it defies the imagination
that a fourteen-year-old from 1950s Chicago could really be ignorant
of the consequences of the color of his skin.

Race worked in different ways in Chicago than it did in
Mississippi, but there were similarities. After Emmett was murdered
one newspaper writer, Carl Hirsch, had the clarity of mind to note,
“The Negro children who live here on Chicago’s South Side or any
Northern ghetto are no strangers to the Jim Crow and the racist
violence.  .  .  . Twenty minutes from the Till home is Trumbull Park
Homes, where for two years a racist mob has besieged 29 Negro
families in a government housing project.” Emmett attended a
segregated, all-black school in a community “padlocked as a ghetto by
white supremacy.” Hirsch pointed out, “People everywhere are joining
to fight because of the way Emmett Till died—but also because of the
way he was forced to live.”4

There was at least one way that Chicago was actually more
segregated than Mississippi. A demographic map of the city in 1950
shows twenty-one distinct ethnic neighborhoods: German, Irish,
Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Czech and Slovak, Scottish, Polish,
Chinese, Greek, Yugoslavian, Russian, Mexican, French, and
Hungarian, among others.5 These ethnic groups divided Chicago
according to an unwritten treaty, which clearly stated that Germans,
for instance, would live on the North Side, Irish on the South Side,
Jews on the West Side, Bohemians and Poles on the Near Southwest
Side and Near Northwest Side, and African Americans in the South
Side’s “Black Belt.” All of these groups had gangs that regarded their

neighborhood as a place to be defended against encroachments by
outsiders. And the most visible outsiders were African Americans.

Black youngsters who walked through neighborhoods other than
their own did so at their peril. Those searching for places to play, in
parks and other public facilities, were especially vulnerable. These
were lessons that black children growing up on the South Side learned
with their ABCs.6

•  •  •

Like many of his contemporaries, Emmett loved baseball. “He was a
nice guy,” said thirteen-year-old Leroy Abbott, a teammate on the
Junior Rockets, their neighborhood baseball team. “And a good
pitcher—a lot of stuff on the ball.”7 With the White Sox and the Cubs
both in Chicago, it may seem odd that Emmett rooted for the
Brooklyn Dodgers, but for a young black baseball enthusiast they
were hard to resist. Brooklyn had not only broken the color barrier by
signing Jackie Robinson in 1947 but had also signed the catcher Roy
Campanella the next year and in 1949 acquired Don Newcombe,
Emmett’s hero. Newcombe soon became the first black pitcher to start
a World Series game and the first to win twenty games in a season.8

One night when Emmett was about twelve, Mamie sent him to the
store to buy a loaf of bread. He was ordinarily reliable about such
things, but on the way home he saw some boys playing baseball in the
park. He walked over to the backstop and talked his way into the
game. He planned to stay for a short time and then go home with the
bread; his mother might not even notice, he told himself. But his
passion for the game overcame him; he must have become absorbed in
the smell of the grass and the crack of the bat, the solid slap of the ball
into leather and the powdery dust of the base paths. “So, I guess he
just put down the bread and got in that game,” his mother recalled.
“And that’s exactly where I found Bo—Bo and that loaf of bread. Of
course, by that time, the bread kind of looked like the kids had been
using it for second base.”9

Emmett was a lovable, playful, and somewhat mischievous child
but essentially well-behaved. He spent his early years in Argo, less

than an hour’s train ride from his eventual home in Chicago, and was
unusually close to his mother and other family members. But he grew
up in one of the toughest and most segregated cities in America,
knowing as virtually every African American in Chicago knew that in
Trumbull Park black fathers kept loaded firearms in their home for
good reason. Emmett did not have to go to Mississippi to learn that
white folks could take offense even at the presence of a black child, let
alone one who violated local customs.

•  •  •

The City of New Orleans was the southbound train of the Illinois
Central Railway that would carry Emmett to Mississippi in August
1955. The Illinois Central connected Chicago to Mississippi not
merely by its daily arrivals and departures but also by tragedy, hope,
and the steel rails of history. Over the six decades from 1910 to 1970
some six million black Southerners departed Dixie for promised lands
all over America. Chicago, the poet Carl Sandburg wrote, became a
“receiving station and port of refuge” for more than half a million of
them, vast numbers of whom hailed from Mississippi. “The world of
Mississippi and the world of Chicago were intertwined and
interdependent,” writes the historian Isabel Wilkerson, “and what
happened in one did not easily escape notice of the other from afar.”
Straight up the line of the northbound Illinois Central the carloads of
pilgrims from the Delta would rumble, the floors littered with so many
empty pasteboard boxes that had been lovingly packed with food
from back home that people called it “the chicken bone express.”
These migrants brought with them musical, culinary, religious, and
community traditions that became a part of Chicago; in fact, the
narrow isthmus on the South Side where African Americans were
confined was often referred to as “North Mississippi.”10 What they
found there, however, was not the Promised Land. Though Chicago
offered a welcome breath of free air, the newcomers also faced a
relentless battle with the white working class over neighborhood
borders and public space.

The first wave of the Great Migration, from 1910 to 1930, doubled
the number of African Americans in Chicago, placing them in
competition for jobs and space with earlier generations of migrants,
most of them from central and southern Europe. Herded into the
South Side, quickly overwhelming its capacity, the descendants of
enslaved Southerners overflowed the ghetto’s narrow confines.
Housing shortages pushed them over invisible racial boundaries into
formerly all-white neighborhoods, where they confronted threats and
violence. One 1919 study of race relations in Chicago called these
upheavals “a kind of guerilla warfare.” Between July 1917 and March
1921 authorities recorded fifty-eight bombings of buildings bought or
rented by African Americans in formerly all-white sections of the

On Sunday, July 27, 1919, a black seventeen-year-old named
Eugene Williams drifted across one of those invisible boundaries and
set off a small race war. As he and his friends swam at a segregated
beach on Lake Michigan, their wooden raft floated into “white”
water. A white man threw rocks at them, hitting Williams in the head,
causing him to sink and drown. Rather than arrest the assailant, white
police officers hauled off a black bystander who objected to their
inaction. Soon carloads of white gunmen raced through the African
American neighborhoods, spraying bullets. Black snipers returned fire.
Mobs of both races roamed the streets, stoning, beating, and stabbing
their victims. The riot raged for five days in that notorious Red
Summer of 1919; police shot down seven African Americans, white
mobs killed sixteen more, and black mobs killed fifteen whites.
Thousands became homeless as a result of arson, and more than five
hundred citizens, two-thirds of them black, were seriously injured.12

The politics of “the New Negro” were in evidence even before the
upheavals but were far more prominent in Chicago afterward, in a
direct response to the race riots.13 Though mourning the deaths,
African Americans in Chicago were proud that they had risen up to
defend their lives and communities. Added to that, pride in the
patriotic sacrifices and military achievements of black soldiers in
World War I met a new determination to make America itself safe for
democracy.14 W. E. B. Du Bois, who had urged African Americans at

the outset of the war to lay aside their special grievances and support
the war effort wholeheartedly, wrote:

We return.

We return from fighting.

We return fighting.

Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great
Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the

reason why.15

Du Bois’s Crisis magazine, which had a circulation of 385,000 in
1915, sold 560,000 copies in the first six months of 1917.16 Marcus
Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association had awakened the
spirit of black pride and self-assertion on a scale unprecedented, and
the charismatic Jamaican black nationalist’s movement swelled across
the country, including a flourishing UNIA chapter in Chicago.17

African American parents began to buy dark-skinned dolls for their
children and to sing what in 1919 became known as the “Negro
National Anthem,” penned years earlier by the NAACP’s James
Weldon Johnson:

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of liberty. . . .

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun

Let us march on until victory is won.

The circulation of “race” publications skyrocketed.18 The Chicago
Defender’s rose from 10,000 to 93,000 in the war years alone, making
it the largest-circulation black newspaper in America. The Defender
shipped two-thirds of its issues outside Chicago, most of them to
Mississippi.19 “On our porches we read the Chicago Defender,”
recalled Mississippian Helen O’Neal-McCrary, “the only news that
black people in Clarksdale could read and believe.”20

“I did not understand the restrictive soreness imposed by
segregation,” wrote a summertime visitor from Mississippi, “until I
got off that train and breathed the freer air of Chicago.”21 If he had
stayed longer, however, this temporary migrant might have grown

disillusioned. In the decades after the bloody conflict of 1919, the
color line in Chicago was even more sharply drawn. The South Side
became almost totally black and the North Side almost entirely white.
The Chicago where Emmett Till grew up became one of the most
racially divided of all American cities and would remain so into the
twenty-first century.22

By the 1940s Chicago led the nation in the use of racial covenants
on real estate; these restrictions on who could buy property and where
they could buy it covered roughly half of the city’s neighborhoods.
Realtors generally refused to show homes to buyers except in
neighborhoods occupied by people of their own race. Many African
Americans, regardless of their means, could not get a mortgage and
became ensnared in a vicious contract-based buying system that
routinely ended up bankrupting them. Federal Housing Authority
mortgage insurance policies strengthened Chicago’s racial boundaries
by denying mortgage insurance and home improvement loans to any
home on a “white” street after even one black family moved in. Later
the Chicago activist Saul Alinsky sardonically defined integration as
“the period of time between the arrival of the first black and the
departure of the last white.”23

Various “neighborhood improvement associations” and street
gangs fought to keep their neighborhoods all-white; racially motivated
residential bombings were one preferred method in the late 1940s and
early 1950s. In 1949 a mob of two thousand whites attacked a small
apartment building in Park Manor, a white neighborhood on the
South Side, after a black couple had purchased the building. Violence
flared again in 1951, when five thousand whites spent several days
firebombing and looting a building in suburban Cicero after the
owners rented a single unit to a black family. The governor of Illinois
dispatched the Illinois National Guard to quell the riot, which injured
nineteen people. In 1954 the Chicago Housing Authority
acknowledged that “bombings are a nightly occurrence” where
African American families had moved into neighborhoods that white
people regarded as their own.24

In 1948 the Chicago Urban League reported that 375,000 black
residents of the South Side lived in an area that could legally

accommodate 110,000. The overpopulation led to abysmal sanitary
and health conditions, and many of the buildings were firetraps.
Overcrowding pushed hard against the racial boundaries that
encircled the African American areas; between 1946 and 1953 six
episodes of riots involving between one thousand and ten thousand
people followed efforts of black citizens to move into areas such as
Cicero, Englewood, and Park Manor.25 In neighborhood after
neighborhood a familiar drama played out along the hard lines of
Chicago segregation. An aspiring black family seeking to escape the
ghetto agreed to pay an inflated price for a home on a previously all-
white block. Alarmed white residents would quickly sell their homes,
allowing landlords to gobble them up at bargain prices. The landlords
would then subdivide the apartments and houses into kitchenettes and
rent them to blacks, substantially increasing the combined rental
income for the building. Neglecting repairs and maintenance, the
landlords—the entire local real estate industry, really—created the
same ghetto conditions that the African American pioneers had fled at
the start in the first act of this three-act tragedy. “In Chicago’s
‘bungalow belt,’ where a large number of European ethnic working-
class families owned their own homes,” observes the historian and
cultural critic Craig Werner, “the first signs of the depressing pattern
understandably generated fierce resistance. The result was what one
historian called ‘chronic urban guerilla warfare.’ ”26

The worst and longest-running of the Chicago housing conflicts
lasted from August 4, 1953, until well into the fall of 1955.27 It began
when Donald and Betty Howard and their two children moved into
Trumbull Park Homes, a 462-unit development in South Deering near
the steel mills. The project had been kept all-white since opening in
1939; the light-skinned Betty Howard got in because the Chicago
Housing Authority misidentified her during the requisite interview. By
August 9 a mob of two thousand angry whites was throwing bricks
and firebombs and Donald Howard was guarding his family’s
apartment with a rifle. The white vigilantes used fireworks to harass
and intimidate the Howards at night. Though police cars shuttled the
family in and out of Trumbull Park, once the Howards were in their
home the officers did little to ensure their safety, simply yielding the

streets to the mob. On August 10 the white mob stoned thirty passing
black motorists and attacked a city bus carrying African Americans,
nearly tipping it over before police intervened. Throughout it all
Mayor Martin Kennelly said nothing about the ongoing violence.

As the number of African American families moving into Trumbull
Park increased to ten, the so-called South Deering Improvement
Association kept the riots rolling and organized economic reprisals
against any neighborhood stores that served African American
customers. The city parks became particular battlegrounds; when
black youths tried to use a baseball diamond in the neighborhood, the
Chicago Police Department had to dispatch four hundred officers to
protect them. In protest Willoughby Abner, a trade unionist who was
president of the Chicago NAACP, organized a baseball “play-in” at
South Deering’s main park; the United Packinghouse Workers of
America, an interracial but increasingly black union devoted to civil
rights, provided support as Abner mobilized the NAACP and sued the
city for inaction. Still conditions in South Deering did not change
appreciably; in late 1954 Chicago’s Federal Housing Administration
director called Trumbull Park “a running sore in our civic life.”28

White residents believed that this black “incursion” was only the
opening gambit of a campaign of racial infiltration: soon African
Americans would buy private homes, causing property values to
plummet, and start taking “white jobs” in the Wisconsin Steel Works
nearby. The heart of the violent white response, however, was more
visceral: like many whites in the Deep South, South Deering’s white
residents had a horror of interracial sex. The South Deering Bulletin
declared, “White people built this area [and] we don’t want no part of
this race mixing.” A housing inspector sent to South Deering reported
that white residents insisted, “It won’t be long now and Negroes and
whites intermarrying will be a common thing and the white race will
go downhill.” The South Deering Improvement Association openly
rallied whites for the ongoing riots at Trumbull Park by promoting
“this fight against forced integration and mongrelization.”29 Walter
White of the NAACP saw the sad irony: although African Americans
fled Mississippi to escape from racial terror, the violence in Chicago
revealed that “Mississippi and the South [followed] them here.”30

But if the battle against integration in Chicago took on some of the
same themes as the battle in Mississippi, there was one big difference:
African Americans in Chicago could vote. So when Mayor Kennelly
ignored complaints about mob violence and housing segregation and
forgot that African Americans had considerable force in the
Democratic Party, it cost him his job. Kennelly ran afoul of U.S.
Representative William Dawson, the most powerful black elected
official in America, who headed the black political machine that
remained a crucial part of the larger Chicago Democratic machine.
Dawson supervised scores of African American ward committee
members, precinct captains, and election workers. He swapped black
ballots for patronage jobs and for protection of the lucrative South
Side numbers rackets and jitney cabs, a major source of his political
funds. When Kennelly’s police department targeted the numbers
games and jitneys, Dawson declared war. His opposition to Kennelly
permitted another Irishman, Richard Daley, head of the Democratic
machine, to slide into place.31

Chicago insiders expected that African Americans would see major
changes along the color line if Daley were elected mayor. So some
black voters must have been taken aback when it became clear that
Daley’s vision for Chicago rested on his commitment to racial
segregation in schools and housing. Others may have been
disappointed to discover that Representative Dawson shared that
commitment, though for different reasons.32

For Dawson it was simple enough: he did not want to disperse the
black voters whose ballots were the source of his power. Packed into
the South Side’s State Street Corridor, black voters were manageable.
Likewise these ghettoes were where people played the numbers and
where the lack of public transportation made unlicensed jitneys an
essential part of life; both of these illicit operations poured money into
Dawson’s campaign coffers. In exchange for his ability to deliver black
votes, Dawson expected that Daley would keep the police away from
the numbers runners and jitney drivers. He also expected Daley to
allot him a share of the city’s patronage jobs. Thus, as far as Dawson
was concerned, the preservation of the racial status quo was a
practical necessity and good business.33

Daley, on the other hand, reflected the stony conservatism that
prevailed in most white, ethnic, working-class neighborhoods in the
1950s. He believed in racial separation of the kind that marked his
own Irish neighborhood of Bridgeport and the various ethnic
neighborhoods that bordered it, especially the South Side’s black
ghetto. Black people belonged on the other side of Wentworth Avenue,
and that was that. He came to power at a time when the black
population hit record highs, when Chicago’s white middle class and a
good many downtown businesses had begun to flee to the suburbs,
aided by cheap FHA loans, lower taxes, and America’s new highways.
“White” neighborhoods became “black” neighborhoods as poor
African Americans flooded in from the South. Daley intended to
rescue Chicago from this dynamic by building a new city on an
unarticulated commitment to segregation.

However, the African American vote marshaled by Dawson’s
machine was too rich for a machine Democrat like Daley to ignore, so
he carefully appealed to both sides on the dicey issues around race. He
was solicitous of Dawson and made it clear that the numbers rackets
and the unlicensed jitneys would encounter no legal hassles under a
Daley administration. He presented himself as a civil rights supporter
in the black community, even giving lip service to the notion that
everyone had a right to live wherever their talents would take them.

Through the white grapevine, however, he spread the word that he
would preserve the color line in housing. He made quiet racial appeals
in the white working-class neighborhoods, circulating letters from the
nonexistent “American Negro Civic Association” that praised his
opponent for supporting open housing. He spoke in favor of public
housing but always added, “Let’s not be arguing about where it’s
located.” He appointed a committee to study the racial problems at
Trumbull Park Homes but made sure the group did nothing.

Daley rode into office on a heavy majority of black votes on April
20, 1955, four months to the day before Emmett Till climbed onto the
City of New Orleans with his great-uncle Moses Wright and his
cousin Wheeler Parker and set out for Mississippi. In the fall, well
after the election, the NAACP’s Willoughby Abner brought five
thousand demonstrators to city hall holding signs that protested the

city’s ongoing racial segregation: “Trumbull Park—Chicago’s Little


E M M E T T I N C H I C AG O A N D “ L I T T L E

M I S S I S S I P P I ”

Mamie Carthan, a bright, plump toddler, was born in Webb,

Mississippi, “really not much of a town at all,” she remembered, more
like a handful of stores “in search of a town.” The main street divided
the black and white sides of the dusty little community. “Just about
any place else would have been better than Mississippi in the 1920s,”
she mused. In 1924 the Great Migration swept Alma and Wiley Nash
Carthan and their two-year-old daughter to Argo, Illinois, a town of
fewer than three thousand people some twelve miles from Chicago.
Wiley had landed a job at Argo’s central enterprise, the Corn Products
Refining Company.

It wasn’t long before the Carthans referred to Argo as their own
“Little Mississippi.” Other family members had already established a
beachhead for relatives, friends, and even strangers who heard there
might be work in Chicago or Argo. Mamie’s grandmother founded a
church for the migrants. “As I was growing up,” Mamie wrote later,
“it really seemed like almost everybody from Mississippi was coming
through our house—the Ellis Island of Chicago.”1

Mississippi in memory remained both the ancestral homeplace and
a land of ghosts and terror. “All kinds of stories came out of
Mississippi with the black people who were running for their lives,”
Mamie wrote. There had been talk of a terrible lynching in
Greenwood, another young man strung mutilated from a tree, not far

from Money, where her uncle Moses and aunt Elizabeth Wright lived.
The Greenwood lynching “was the sort of horrible thing you only
heard about in the areas nearby.” In the decades before the civil rights
era, racial killings in remote corners of the Deep South frequently
went unreported by the national or even the local press.2 What the
migrants learned by word of mouth has since been established as fact.
Mississippi outstripped the rest of the nation in virtually every
measure of lynching: the greatest number of lynchings, the most
lynchings per capita, the most lynchings without an arrest or
conviction, the most female victims, the most multiple lynchings, and
on and on.3 Richard Wright, writing of his boyhood in Mississippi in
the 1920s, observed, “The things that influenced my conduct as a
Negro did not have to happen to me directly; I needed but to hear
about them to feel their full effects in the deepest layers of my
consciousness. Indeed, the white brutality that I had not seen was a
more effective control of my behavior than that which I knew.”4

Mamie was haunted by the story of a little black girl who had been
playing with a white girl at the home of the white family that
employed her mother. The white girl got upset with the black girl and
ran to tell her father as he walked up the driveway from work. He
angrily snatched up the black girl, shook her like a rag doll, then
tossed her up against a tree in the front yard. “Now, that girl’s mother
had to finish her day’s work before she could even look after her
daughter, who was left there writhing in pain the rest of the day,”
Mamie remembered many years later. “Eventually, the little girl died
of her injuries.” This was “a cautionary tale,” she said, a tale of horror
rooted in real experience, whether or not it was precisely true in its
particular details. “Was this a true story? I don’t know. But I do know
this: Somewhere between the fact we know and the anxiety we feel is
the reality we live.”5

Though Argo was almost close enough to be a part of Chicago, the
reality the Carthan family lived was “a sleepy little town where whites
called blacks by their first names and where blacks would never dare
to do the same thing.”6 Segregation was haphazard and unpredictable.
“Some of the white kids and people of Argo could get nasty and give
the Negro children a rough time just for spite,” recalls Gerald V.

Stokes, who grew up in Argo during the 1950s. Black children in Argo
were told never to enter restaurants or business establishments except
in the company of an adult: “They were warned never to take short
cuts to school through the white neighborhoods. They were warned
never to talk to strangers, especially white strangers, or to talk back
[to] white folks.” In Argo, according to Stokes, “bad things happened
to little Negro children at the hands of white strangers.”7

Argo was a community of immigrants, nearly all of them from
Mississippi, who had come in search of the Promised Land and found
something less grand. Even so the kids frolicked loudly up and down
the streets until darkness began to fall. Mothers and fathers sat on the
stoops and laughed out loud without concern for who might hear.
Neighbors shared access to telephones, which were rare, and simply
yelled to communicate with friends across the street. “Everyone talked
loudly and freely,” writes Stokes. “They felt secure in the blackness of
their lives.”8 Mamie agrees: “You could pretty much see it all from
our end, on the sidewalk in front of our home. The elementary school
right across the street, the church not too far down the street, and to
the right, filling up the distant horizon, was the Corn Products plant.
Our whole world.”9

All the Carthans’ immediate neighbors were family members from
Mississippi. Aunt Marie, Uncle Kid, and his cousin “June Bug” lived
west of the Carthans. Uncle Crosby and his family lived to the east.
Just behind them were Aunt Babe and Uncle Emmett. Mamie’s great-
uncle Lee Green lived across the street. This must have made a terribly
hard thing a little easier when Mamie’s father left the family in 1932,
when she was eleven, and moved to Detroit to marry another woman.
Even with her daddy gone, Mamie grew up in the bosom of this
extended family, much beloved, secure from the many-sided perils of
Mississippi and sheltered from the Chicago that E. Franklin Frazier
called “the City of Destruction.”10

And it wasn’t just Mississippi kin who found welcome and a sense
of belonging in the Carthan household. “Our house was the
meetinghouse, the gathering place, the center of the community,”
recalled Mamie, whose deep attachment to her mother never faded.
“It was the place where Mama had helped [her mother] found the

Argo Temple Church of God in Christ and where she recruited new
members with practically each new Mississippi migrant.” Here in
“Little Mississippi” they found new lives anchored by the Corn
Products plant and surrounded by the family but still tethered to the
South.11 In the summer black folks from Argo felt an unwritten
obligation to visit family in Mississippi and reconnect with the social
and spiritual world that continued to define their lives.12

•  •  •

On October 14, 1940, at eighteen, Mamie married Louis Till, a burly,
athletic gambler who favored dice and poker and loved boxing. “I
became pregnant right away, and being the plump type, I began filling
out rapidly,” she later told a newspaper reporter. “This set the
neighbors’ tongues to clacking busily.” Emmett Louis Till was born in
Cook County Hospital on July 25, 1941, after a long and difficult
labor. Medical complications during a breech birth left the infant
scarred from the instruments and with a badly bruised knee, among
other injuries. The doctors thought that some damage might be
permanent; thankfully they were wrong. Mamie was in bad shape for
months, but at two months old Emmett “was a beautiful baby with a
sunny disposition and every sign of being normal.” By Mamie’s
account, her husband never once came to see his son or his wife in the

The family had nicknamed the baby “Bobo” even before he was
born, and the name stuck. Because he was born so light-skinned, with
blond hair and blue eyes, the neighbors gossiped; the milkman and the
ice man both became suspects, according to Mamie. Soon, however,
Emmett’s hair darkened, his eyes turned hazel brown, and he favored
Louis so strongly that his paternity could not be doubted.14

Louis Till, dictatorial and ill-tempered, resented the amount of time
his wife spent at her mother’s house after Emmett was born. He
expected to have supper waiting for him when he came home from his
Corn Products job. If Mamie and the baby were still at her mother’s,
he became abusive and violent when she did return. During one
episode Mamie threw boiling water on him. Eventually she and the

baby moved into her mother’s house, and in 1942 Mamie and Louis
separated permanently.15

Louis’s efforts to reconcile with Mamie also became abusive, and
she obtained a restraining order against him, which he violated
persistently. In later years she claimed that a judge finally gave him a
choice between jail and military service. He joined the army and
regularly sent his estranged family child support payments of $22 a
month. In July 1945 the checks stopped coming and a telegram from
the Department of Defense informed her that Louis had been executed
in Italy for “willful misconduct.” The army later sent her attorney a
record of the court-martial, which would have explained that he had
been convicted of raping two women and killing a third while
stationed in Italy. The army shipped his few belongings to Argo,
including a silver ring engraved with the initials “L.T.” She put the
ring away, thinking that Emmett might want it someday.16

When Emmett was naughty, he hid under the bed, peeking out to
see if anyone was chasing him. Mamie was completely disarmed by his
playful defiance and could hardly think to scold him.17 Her mother
supplied most of the order and discipline in the household. As far as
Alma Carthan was concerned, she now had two babies. “I was the big
kid, Emmett was the little kid,” Mamie explained. “We were so much
like brother and sister, like friends back then, and it added a unique
dimension to the mother-son bond we would forge over the years

That bond grew even stronger after a crisis that struck them in the
summer of 1946. Emmett had just turned six. His mother noticed that
although he had plenty of energy during the day, he seemed to deflate
with fatigue every evening. This was unlike him, who was ordinarily a
dynamo until bedtime. Then his temperature began to rise sharply
every night. Alma and Mamie rubbed him with “goose grease” and
made him drink “hoof tea” every evening. “These remedies were
supposed to cure a lot of things,” Mamie wrote. “I never knew why or
how. I didn’t even know what kind of hoof came in that little box of
tea. I didn’t know what [goose grease] was supposed to do, either. I
just knew that all our folks from Mississippi used it.”19

But Emmett only grew worse with the home remedies, so they
called a doctor, who gave the boy a diagnosis that broke Mamie’s
heart: “Polio was the worst thing that could happen to you back then.
It didn’t kill you, but it could take your life away from you just the
same.” Polio threatened permanent limb damage and lifelong
disability. The doctor ordered Emmett quarantined at home; he
couldn’t leave the house, nor could anyone come over to see him, a
decree the six-year-old fought. “Mama had to sit with Emmett all the
time, practically holding him in the bed,” remembered Mamie.20

After thirty days “he had beaten it.  .  .  . He was finally up and
running again and practically tore a hole in the screen to get out.”21

The polio left him with a noticeable stutter and weak ankles that
forced him to wear special shoes, but neither of those infirmities kept
him from moving relentlessly through the world. Endearing and lively,
he had plenty of toys and plenty of friends, so that his grandmother’s
yard became a kind of neighborhood playground. He and his friends
played baseball and basketball in the nearby schoolyard and park, and
on special occasions they liked to go to the Brookfield Zoo about
three miles away.

Just as Emmett recovered from polio and escaped to the baseball
diamond, Mamie’s cousins Hallie and Wheeler Parker Sr. moved from
Mississippi to the house next door. It was the house where her uncle
Crosby Smith had lived until he decided to move back to Mississippi.
Emmett became best friends with Wheeler Jr., who was two years

Aside from that month of pain and the loneliness of his quarantine,
those three years in Argo, from 1947 to 1950, were paradise for
Emmett, surrounded by playmates and next door to his best friend. So
when Mamie and Emmett moved to Detroit in 1950 to live with her
father while she worked at the Fort Wayne Induction Center, Emmett
was terribly homesick. The following year she met Pink Bradley, an
auto worker at Chrysler, and married him after a brief romance.
Seeing Emmett’s homesickness grow worse Mamie decided that her
boy should move back to Argo and live with Uncle Kid and Aunt
Marie.23 When Pink lost his job at Chrysler, he and Mamie relocated
to Chicago; there they moved into an apartment on South St.

Lawrence, right next to the apartment her mother had moved into
earlier. Emmett happily joined them.24

But Pink began spending his weekends in Detroit, a five-hour drive
away. Slowly he drifted back to Detroit altogether and away from his
marriage. When Mamie learned that he had a woman in Detroit, she
and her mother changed the locks and threw his clothes into the

Now Alma, Mamie, and Emmett were back together again, with
Emmett, a natural prankster and mimic, keeping all of them
entertained. “From the very beginning with Emmett there was
laughter,” wrote Mamie. “I heard about more chickens crossing more
roads, and knock-knock this and knock-knock that. All those tired,
old jokes that were still new to him. Sometimes he would tell riddles
that he seemed to have been making up, because they didn’t make
sense. Or maybe you just had to be [a child] to understand them.”26

They got a television, and Emmett learned to mimic the early
comedians. “He knew the routines of all the top ones on television,”
Simeon Wright remembered, “Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Abbott and
Costello, and George Gobel. Gobel, with his deadpan delivery, was a
particular favorite of Bobo’s.”27

Emmett’s audience included the band of boys he ran with on
weekends in Argo, which he could reach in less than an hour on the
63rd Street bus. His cousins Wheeler, William, and Milton Parker
were regular playmates, as were his cousins Crosby “Sunny” Smith,
Sam Lynch, and Tyrone Modiest, and friends like Donny Lee Taylor
and later Lindsey Hill. “When those boys got together it was non-stop
laughter,” his mother recalled.28

Sometimes Mamie would cart the boys to the beach on Lake
Michigan; she had to take care, of course, since segregation of public
beaches, though not a matter of law, was a fact of life in the 1950s.29

But that did not spoil their fun. One day the Argo crew decided to
wear their swim trunks home and just carry their clothes. “Donny Lee
made the mistake of falling asleep in the car with Bo,” Mamie wrote.
“He woke up to find that he was wearing his underwear after all. On
his head.”30

On warm nights the boys would end up “doo-wopping” under a
lamppost. It was most likely Emmett, whom everybody described as a
natural showman who “liked the spotlight,” who brought this new
form of entertainment to his cousins.31 Throughout the 1950s a
burgeoning South Side street-corner doo-wop scene blended gospel
harmonies with pop lyrics to produce groups such as the Dells and the
Flamingos and singers like Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler.32

According to Mamie, however, the Argo boys were in no danger of
hitting the big time: “For this group of boys standing under a curbside
spotlight, the music was off-key, it was out of sync, it was perfect. The
grace note of their young lives.”33

Emmett seemed to blossom in the years he lived in Chicago and
played in Argo. He enrolled in the fifth grade at James McCosh
Elementary School, only two blocks from their place on South St.
Lawrence. McCosh was an all-black school with 1,600 students in
kindergarten through eighth grade and an interracial faculty. “Emmett
was never a discipline problem,” the principal told reporters. “He
tended to be quiet. As a student, he was average.” Teachers noted that
he was close to his mother and that he attended church regularly.

The pastor of the Church of God in Christ in Argo—the church
founded many years earlier in Alma Carthan’s house—observed that
young Emmett rode the 63rd Street bus almost every Sunday morning
to attend the church where he had grown up. Wheeler Parker Sr.,
Emmett’s uncle and superintendent of the Sunday school, reported
that Emmett had a near-perfect attendance record every year.34 “He
liked going to church,” said his mother, who attended far less often,
“and he was under the influence of his grandmother, a deeply religious

After his mother’s marriage to Pink Bradley ended in 1953, Emmett
took on more adult household responsibilities. “Since I had to work
and make the living,” Mamie said, “Bo did all of the housework and
laundry. I did the cooking but he even learned to do some of this. He
was a good housekeeper.”36 Eva Johnson, who lived next door,
recalled “the time he was going to surprise his mother with a cake.” It
was a yellow cake “made with eggs like pound cake, only using ready-
mix.” Emmett asked Johnson to come tell him what was wrong with

the cake. “Lord ’a’ mercy, he’d watched it ’til it began to rise, then he
began stirring it! I told him it was ruined [and] he’d better just quit.”37

His increased responsibilities moved young Emmett quickly to the
edge of manhood. “In between taking care of more and more things
for me,” Mamie noted, “he made sure he took care of his own things.”
He was meticulous about his clothes. He fancied a straw hat and a tie
when he went to church, and even on the ball field he tried to look his
best. But if this was to impress girls, he did not appear to be very good
at it. At fourteen he had had only one date, and he never really had a
girlfriend. He still stammered at times, a lingering effect of polio. He
was only five feet four inches tall, but stocky, weighing about 160
pounds. His great-uncle Moses Wright acknowledged, “He looked like
a man.”38

And so it was understandable that his mother gave her assent to the
proposed trip to Money but also delivered lengthy lectures about the
differences between Mississippi and Chicago. She urged Emmett to
avoid conversations with white people, to speak only if spoken to, and
to always say “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” or “No, ma’am” and “No,
sir.” If a white woman should walk toward you on the sidewalk, take
to the street and lower your eyes. Should any dispute arise with any
white person whatsoever, humble yourself and agree with them.
Emmett protested that he knew all that, that she had already taught
him how to act.

In the glare of attention following the murder of her son, Mamie
claimed, “This was the first time I had ever really spoken to Emmett
about race.” Perhaps. “After all, how do you give a crash course in
hatred to a boy who has only known love?” Certainly it is true that
Emmett grew up blanketed by love, and if he drifted into any of the
racial battles around him in Chicago, no record of it exists. But it is
unlikely this was the first time she cautioned her son to watch his step.
In the segregated and often violent Chicago of the 1950s, Emmett did
not need to take a train south to discover that being black made him a
potential target, any more than he needed his mother to explain that

Mamie and Emmett were to meet Uncle Moses and Wheeler at
Englewood Station about eight o’clock that morning. It was

practically around the corner, but even so, the whistle blew while
Mamie was buying Emmett’s ticket, and they had to run to the train.
“He liked to got left,” Wright said later. “If he’d taken five minutes
later, he’d have missed it.” A quick kiss and he was gone, wearing his
father’s silver ring engraved “L.T.” and waving to his mother from the
top of the platform.39


P I S T O L – W H I P P I N G AT C H R I S T M A S

“The color of our skin didn’t make any difference when we were

young,” Carolyn Bryant lied wistfully, looking back over eight
decades. In this cheerful falsehood she had a lot of company. But
unlike many other white Americans, Carolyn was also capable of
honesty and even clarity on matters of race. “As I grew older,” she
continued, “I learned that it was not okay to have black friends,
[though] our parents taught us that everyone deserves respect.”1

•  •  •

Carolyn Holloway was born on July 23, 1934, a hot, muggy
afternoon, on the Archer Plantation, about ten miles down a blistering
Delta blacktop from Cruger, Mississippi. A premature baby weighing
only four and a half pounds, she was born on her father’s birthday.2

“We lived in a big house on the plantation,” Carolyn told me. “Not
the big house, just a large house that was built for the plantation
manager.” Her father, Tom Holloway, had a reputation as an efficient
plantation manager and a good cotton farmer, and plantation owners
competed for his services, so the Holloway family moved frequently.
Moving had become more and more common in the rural South
during the Depression, among Southern sharecroppers moving just
down the road as well as poor whites taking the “hillbilly highway” to
Detroit and African Americans hopping the “chicken bone express” to
Chicago. All trekked in search of greater opportunity.3 Home was a
fragile concept for the Holloways, but they never traveled very far.

Though they lived on several different plantations in the Mississippi
Delta, Carolyn’s heart always belonged in Cruger, where her maternal
grandparents and Aunt Mabel, her mother’s oldest sister, lived.

Besides being a plantation manager Tom Holloway worked as a
prison guard in Lambert at one of the outlying camps of the notorious
Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. The
prisoners “were all black, they were all black men. And my daddy
worked at Camp A, the first one. They had a sergeant and a first rider
and a second rider. My daddy was the first rider.” All the riders were
white men, each with a whip, a shotgun, and a rifle, who oversaw the
prisoners from horseback. The inmates in their black-and-white-
striped uniforms addressed the drivers as “Cap’n.”4

Camp A had been part of the O’Keefe Plantation in Quitman
County until the Mississippi Department of Corrections purchased the
land in 1916. In their physical structure, the camps resembled a
slavery-era plantation. Black convicts took the place of the enslaved,
but otherwise the systems were identical—the same crops grown in the
same way under the same discipline. In both instances the farming
operation depended on a handful of poor white men to supervise the
captive laborers.

The instrument of authority at Mississippi’s prison camps was a
leather strap, three feet long and six inches wide, nicknamed “Black
Annie,” hanging from each driver’s belt. A former inmate remarked,
“They beat hell out of you for any reason or no reason. It’s the
greatest pleasure of their lives.” It was not unusual for the drivers to
whip a convict for working too slowly or for breaking a shovel. “The
driver seemed to be everywhere, ‘directing, scolding, encouraging, or
whacking across the shoulders with the whip.’ ” More formal
punishment was a whipping in the evening, in front of all the men,
with the victim spread-eagle on the floor. “They whupped us with big,
wide strops. They didn’t whup no clothes. They whupped your naked
butt. And they had two men to hold you [or] as many as they need.”
Routine offenses like fighting, stealing, and showing “disrespect” to a
driver earned five to fifteen lashes; attempts to escape brought the
punishment of whipping without limit—whippings that were
sometimes fatal. “They’d kill um like that.”5

During the 1930s and well into the 1950s the lash enjoyed
widespread public support among whites in Mississippi. Editors,
church groups, public officials, sheriffs, and prison authorities all
seemed to support whipping as “the perfect instrument of discipline in
a prison populated by the wayward children of former slaves,” writes
the historian David Oshinsky. These prison camps were “a powerful
link to the past—a place of racial discipline where blacks in striped
clothing worked the cotton fields for the enrichment of others. And it
would remain this way for another half-century, until the civil rights
movement methodically swept it away.”6

No one would expect a little girl to be told about or to understand
the realities of work and life at one of the prison camps attached to
Parchman, particularly if her father worked there. On the other hand,
it stretches the imagination to think that the sensibilities of a man
chosen as first driver on Parchman Farm were so delicate they
prevented him from joining in the brutal rigors of his job. But Carolyn
remained firm that her father had never taken part in those routines.
“The sergeant told him he would have to take his turn on whipping
night,” she said. “My daddy refused to do it. And on whipping night
he would come home, and he would go into the bedroom and close
the door and go to bed.”

•  •  •

In her living room awash in sunlight, decades separating her from the
last violent years of Jim Crow Mississippi, Carolyn recalled the
moment segregation and white supremacy became sharply drawn
imperatives: a bike ride long ago that she didn’t take with Barnes

Barnes was the son of black laborers. His mother, Annie Freeman,
cleaned the Holloways’ house and kept the household running
smoothly, while Isadore, his dark-skinned father, worked as a hostler
on one of the plantations that Carolyn’s father managed. A white
family did not need to be affluent to afford black servants. When I
was growing up in the 1960s this was still a ubiquitous pattern in the
South: black domestics made and served dinner to white families,

never sitting down to share in the meals, of course. The practice gave
rise to another inevitable lie white people told themselves: that black
employees were “just like family.” The insurance policies, family wills,
holiday times, and dinner tables, to say nothing of churches, schools,
neighborhoods, and public facilities, told a more honest story. “Barnes
was our friend, just like family, almost,” Carolyn insisted. “You know,
he was all in our house and everything, and I didn’t think a thing in
the world about it. We just really liked him.”

Barnes was “more light-skinned” than his father, “kind of
chocolate milk color,” Carolyn told me. “I think he was probably kind
of large for his age.” He was four or five years older than Carolyn, but
despite their age difference, they often played together. Barnes’s play
was inventive, “like putting a rope on an old tire and hanging it from
the tree, and Barnes would push us on that tire. We’d sit with our legs
through it and he’d swing us.” With the distance of time she described
Barnes as her favorite companion, with the possible exception of Aunt
Mabel, who frequently kept Carolyn at the family homeplace in
Cruger, within about ten miles of the series of plantation houses where
Carolyn’s family lived while she was growing up. Cruger was where
she usually played with Barnes.

Aunt Mabel was more doting grandmother than aunt, with never a
cross word for her favorite niece. Mabel contracted polio as a child
and had limped after she recovered; as an adult she fell and shattered
her hip and thereafter spent most of her time in a wheelchair.
Carolyn’s time with her aunt was therefore often sedentary, a blessing
on the hottest days of the summer. A screened porch ran the length of
the house and looked out on the dirt road that led toward town, a
generous term when applied to Cruger. “It was a little bitty town
[that] just had a row of stores and that’s it,” Carolyn said. Her
grandfather Lee Pikes owned some land near Cruger, and “a little
shack down on the lake he sold fish out of, and he had a grist mill and
ground meal, and he bootlegged liquor.” In the scorching, steamy
summer heat, Carolyn and Aunt Mabel spent most of their time on
the porch, shelling peas, snapping string beans, or just sitting. “I
almost never wanted to be inside and was content to sit in the swing
on the porch, trying not to move, so I might be cooler.”

But every now and then Carolyn chafed against the quieter tempo
of her aunt’s house. One summer afternoon when she was ten or
eleven and Barnes was fourteen or fifteen, just the age of Emmett Till
when he ran afoul of Mississippi’s customs, she was sitting alone on
the porch when Barnes rode his bicycle past the house and waved.
“Hey, Barnes,” Carolyn yelled. “Where you going?”

“I’m going to the store to get something for my mama,” he replied.
“I asked, ‘Can I go with you?’ ” Carolyn told me. “He said, ‘Yeah,

sure. Jump on the back.’ He had this little rack on the back like old-
timey bicycles. . . . I darted off the screened porch, slamming the door
behind me as usual. And I jumped on the back of his bike.”

Almost instantly, before Barnes had a chance to push off and begin
their ride, Aunt Mabel rolled out of the house onto the porch, pushed
open the screened door, and screeched at the top of her lungs, “Get off
that bike and get in this house, right now!”

“I was startled to hear her scream, as she had never raised her voice
at me before. Immediately I did as I was told, but I was puzzled, as she
seemed to be mad at me.” When Carolyn asked why she was upset,
her aunt replied, “Because you don’t need to be riding with boys on
your bike, because people will talk about you.”

“It didn’t dawn on me at the time,” Carolyn wrote many years
later, “but the real reason she was upset and yelled at me was because
Barnes was a black boy. . . . This was Mississippi. At that time it was
okay [for small children] to play with black friends at your home [but]
it was completely unacceptable for me to be with Barnes and go off to
the store on the back of his bike.”7 She told me, “I don’t remember
being around him much after that. So maybe he and I both got
corrected, you know.”

•  •  •

Carolyn was fifteen in 1949, in high school near Cruger, and had just
won the school’s beauty contest when her father suffered a series of
strokes. The first two weakened him greatly and kept him from
working. The final stroke, at age sixty-three, killed him as he sat in

their living room. She was bereft, as was her mother, who was only
forty-six years old.

Carolyn’s mother began training as a nurse, and the plantation’s
owners were kind enough to let the family remain in the house until
she earned her nursing degree. Then the family moved to the nearby
small town of Indianola, the seat of Sunflower County. There her
mother worked long hours at the hospital while they lived in a small
apartment across the road. Carolyn was barely over five feet tall,
weighed less than a hundred pounds, and had lovely brunette hair and
full lips. Her new classmates seemed to agree that she was movie-star
material, for she soon won her second high school beauty contest. To
help make ends meet she worked behind the sales counter at the
Morgan & Lindsay Variety Store and babysat for a number of local
families. When her mother worked late Carolyn took care of her
younger siblings.8

Their distance from what Carolyn saw as the paradise of the
plantation Delta seemed to be echoed in her memories of race.
Indianola, where the Citizens’ Council would one day be founded,
was firmly and vehemently segregated. “There were no black children
in school with us—this was no different from the Delta, of course—
and no black families in our neighborhood. In fact, the only contact I
had with any black people was when I was waiting on them at the
Morgan and Lindsay.”

In town Carolyn learned the rigid folkways of race. Black people
were expected to say “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” when talking with
white people, even whites younger than themselves. Blacks were
“actin’ up” or “weren’t ‘in their place’ ” if “they didn’t step aside
when someone white passed them on the sidewalk. They better not
look any white person in the eye, either. That’d get them punched.”
Carolyn maintained that in that respect Indianola “was certainly
different from the plantation I grew up on,” but it may simply have
been that her awareness of racial arrangements grew as she got older.

Of course racial separation went deeper than public social
arrangements. The idyll of Barnes and the Cruger of her youth was
over. “We could no longer have black friends when we lived in
Indianola,” she wrote. “It was something that was never spoken

directly to us but something we understood as the way things were.”9

At least in memory the change from the more intimate racial
paternalism that represented one kind of life in the rural Delta seemed
to Carolyn tied to her family’s loss of a father and their fall from a
certain kind of grace.

But for a pretty white girl Indianola had its charms. At her new
high school Carolyn soon had a boyfriend with a car. One day he
drove her out in the country and offered to show her “the hanging
tree.” He explained that “a long time ago” white men had hanged
black men “when they were actin’ up and weren’t in their place.”
Carolyn knew how trivial an offense could constitute a violation of
racial mores. “I’m not sure how long ago ‘a long time ago’ was,” she
said as she told the story. “But I told him, ‘Sure, I want to see the
tree.’ ” On a deserted side road he stopped the car in front of a huge
old tree. Up in the thick lower limbs Carolyn detected an ancient
length of rope snagged in the trunk, leaving only a foot or so of frayed
rope hanging free, tied in a noose.

Carolyn’s childhood stories are a narrative of class decline. They
establish the understanding that she and her family were a rung or
two above the family into which she married because they were
capable of a paternalistic generosity toward black people in a way her
in-laws were not. There are grains of truth here, to be sure, but it is
also a self-exculpating story: if she hadn’t gotten mixed up with the
Milam-Bryant clan, the stories suggest, this ugly Till lynching and its
aftermath would never have happened. That is almost certainly true.
There was, she declared, a greater degree of gentility to her
upbringing, and indeed her character, than the Milams and Bryants
possessed. She described herself as an innocent wandering into a place
she didn’t quite belong.

•  •  •

The matriarch of a headstrong clan, born Eula Lee Morgan, gave birth
to eight sons and three daughters by two different men. Five boys
carried the Milam family name: Edward, the oldest; Spencer Lamar,
whom they called Bud or Buddy; followed by John William (J.W.),

Dan, and Leslie. Their father had been killed in a road construction
accident when a gravel pit caved in on him and three other members
of the crew.10 Eula Lee then married a cousin of her late husband,
Henry Ezra Bryant, whom everybody called “Big Boy,” and had six
more children: Mary Louise, who married Melvin Campbell; two twin
boys, Raymond and Roy; then Aileen, James, and finally Doris, born
with severe mental disabilities.

On ordinary mornings Eula Lee would fix breakfast while Big Boy
opened their store, which was next door. Later in the morning Big Boy
would come back and eat his breakfast while his wife took care of the
store. Then they would both work in the store all day. One morning
Eula Lee had eaten her eggs and sausage and waited for her husband,
but he did not come home. When she walked over to the store to find
him, she found instead an empty cash register, and one of their cars
was missing.

“So she called the bank to see about the bank account,” Carolyn
told me, “and it’s been closed down, and he’s gone off with another
woman.” Big Boy and the woman fled to Arkansas, where they lived
for seven years, a separation period after which Mississippi law at the
time granted an automatic divorce. After he married the woman, they
moved back to Mississippi and ran a store in the small community of
Curtis Station, forty miles northeast of Eula Lee. Occasionally Roy,
who was sixteen or seventeen when his father deserted the family,
would drive up there with Carolyn to see him but he was careful to
keep these trips a secret, especially from his mother. She swore that if
she ever saw “Big Boy” again she would kill him, which was one
reason that she carried a .38-caliber revolver everywhere she went.
Mrs. Bryant would frequently say, “If I ever see him again,” and shake
her head, reaffirming her homicidal vow. “The pistol was in her
purse,” said Carolyn. “Always.”

Carolyn first met Roy Bryant at a party when she was fourteen and
visiting her oldest sister and her family in Tutwiler. “He was about
seventeen and so handsome,” she recalled. A few days later Roy
dropped by her sister’s house and asked her to accompany him and
some friends to another party. Carolyn’s sister said no, but Carolyn’s
eyes said yes, which he noted.

She didn’t see Roy again until after her father died. “Roy’s family
had moved to Indianola about the same time that we moved there,”
she told me with a glimmer of excitement still flickering sixty-five
years later. “I was walking home from school one day, and Roy Bryant
rolled up beside me in his Forty-nine Chevrolet.” He smiled and
offered her a ride. “I didn’t hesitate one second.” Thereafter Roy
appeared quite regularly to give her a ride and sometimes take her for
a hamburger and a Coke on the way. “I did slip away with him a few
times, but I knew I had to get home to babysit.”

At eighteen Roy joined the 82nd Airborne and was stationed at
Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Juggling school, her job, and her work
about the house, Carolyn waited eagerly for his furloughs. “We
seemed to grow closer and closer, and I looked forward to his visits
when he received leave from the service. I just knew I was in love.”
One beautiful day in the spring of 1951, Roy proposed. “We decided
to elope the next day,” she said, because she was only sixteen and
hadn’t finished high school. “Mama would never sign for me to get
married.” The next day Carolyn pretended she was going to school
but instead met her beau at the post office in Indianola. They picked
up a license at city hall, drove to the parsonage at the Second Baptist
Church in Greenwood, and were married in the living room, with
Roy’s cousin and the preacher’s wife as witnesses. Then they drove
straight to a motel to consummate the marriage.

“We left the motel late that afternoon,” recalled Carolyn. On the
road they passed her sister and brother-in-law going in the opposite
direction. Both cars pulled over to the side of the road, and Carolyn
told her sister the news. “My sister hugged us, wished us all the best,
and hurried off to tell Mama.” The happy couple jumped back in the
car and drove on to Itta Bena, where Roy’s family had gathered to
celebrate the union; the decision to elope had been no secret among
the Bryants and Milams. They enjoyed a huge supper and a festive
evening, but Roy had to catch a bus back to Fort Bragg that night.
“Here we were, married only a few hours, and he was going to leave
me,” she wrote later. “I was devastated.”11

Carolyn found it bizarre that her mother-in-law, Eula Lee, drank
whiskey for breakfast and carried a pistol in her purse at all times.

Short, plump, and bossy, Eula Lee “could embarrass a sailor,
cursing. . . . And could put away the booze. That’s the first thing she
did in the morning was fix herself a hot toddy. Bourbon.” Her brother-
in-law Melvin Campbell likewise poured down the whiskey. “All the
time, from the very time he woke up in the morning until he passed
out.” Melvin in particular “could flare up in a minute. He had a real
hair-trigger temper.” Roy’s brothers drank heavily, too, and were also
quick to fly into a rage. “Well, it was like that with all of ’em. Roy
was like that. That’s the way every one of them was like.”

Along with drinking hard, carrying a gun, and having a bad temper,
overt expressions of white supremacy were simply part of the Milam-
Bryant family’s way of carrying themselves in the world. “They were
racist, the whole family,” confided Carolyn, implicitly exempting
herself. “For one thing, it was the ‘N-word’ all the time. ‘I’ve got this
N working over here doing this, I’m gonna have to go get my money
from that N over there because he’s not paying me.’ ” History had
stacked the social world of Jim Crow Mississippi like pancakes, with
African Americans distinctly on the bottom. Pro-slavery ideologues of
the late 1850s would have called black Mississippians the “mudsill,” a
foundational class to perform the necessary labors of life so that the
higher classes could pursue the loftier aims essential to civilization.12

One problem with this social structure was that middle- and lower-
class whites tugged and scraped to find a satisfactory place for
themselves. Their one undeniable accomplishment, which afforded a
social status that could not be denied them, was to be born white.
White sharecroppers, the lowest of whom even African Americans
quietly dismissed as “poor white trash,” occupied the rungs just above
blacks. Laborers and small-time merchants like the Milams and
Bryants, who made their living from selling cigarettes and snuff, illegal
whiskey, and various snacks and staples, were only marginally higher;
their betters derided them as “peckerwoods.”

Though she liked to have a good time, Eula Lee was blunt. “If you
[didn’t] want to know the truth, [you didn’t] ask her,” her daughter-in-
law chuckled. “The only thing I ever heard her say, actually, about
[the Till murder] was that it was a shame I’d left the pistol in the car, I
could have saved them all that trouble.” Though tough as rough-hewn

timber, Eula Lee pulled her children close to her and taught them to
work hard and stick together. She organized an unflagging stream of
family gatherings, often at her little grocery store in Swan Lake or the
one after that in Sharkey, to eat big meals and drink a lot of whiskey.
Somebody would bring fried chicken or pork chops. “It seemed like
almost every weekend we were going to somebody’s house or
somebody was coming to our house,” Carolyn recalled. “And we’d
have just lots of regular old food, beans and peas and corn and
potatoes, and all of it.” There were few if any secrets. “Everything you
did or got, whatever,” Carolyn told me, “was everybody’s business.
And they were all in on it.”13

The Milam-Bryant brothers were especially close, working together
and regularly playing cards and drinking together. “You could never
tell they were [only] half-brothers,” said their mother, “unless they
told you.” Each of them carried a pistol. Seven of the eight of them
had served in the military.14 And most of them eventually ran small
grocery stores throughout Leflore, Tallahatchie, and Sunflower
Counties, in Swan Lake, Glendora, Minter City, Itta Bena, Ruleville,
and Money. According to local law enforcement records, the stores
sold whiskey in violation of the state’s Prohibition laws.15

Eula Lee’s sons practiced a raw style of masculine camaraderie that
revolved around guns, hunting, fishing, poker, and drinking. Boys
would be boys and women would stay out of it. Carolyn said, “They
did such crazy things all the time anyway, you didn’t really question
what they were doing. ‘Well, you wanna go see if we can find a
deer?’—you know, at two o’clock in the morning—or ‘Let’s go get so-
and-so and play some cards.’ ” They shocked young Carolyn with their
loud arguments over practically anything. “They did have some of the
worst arguments, cuss-fights, you ever heard, with their poker games.
You would think they were gonna get up and fight, yeah.” Eula Lee
tried to reassure her daughter-in-law. “I would say ‘Oh, my goodness’
when I first got in the family, you know, and I thought, ‘Ooh, what’s
going on, they’re getting ready to fight in there.’ And Mrs. Bryant
would say, ‘Oh, don’t pay any attention to them, they’re not gon’
fight.’ ” Carolyn believed her, up to a point. “You just never knew
what was coming—those kind of people. But they were hard.”

The Milams and Bryants believed “that they could do anything
they wanted to do and get away with it because they had a lot of
clout”; that’s how Carolyn put it years later. This confidence owed
something to their association with the newly elected sheriff of
Tallahatchie County, Henry Clarence Strider, known as “H.C.” The
sheriff was a 270-pound former football player who owned 1,500
acres of prime Delta cotton land and held sway over dozens of black
sharecropping families. Carolyn described Strider as “sort of like the
Godfather in Mississippi at that time. Whatever he said was what you
did.” Presumably because of their political support, the Milams and
Bryants enjoyed his protection from the law and from everyone else.
“One reason they were so much the way they were was that they
thought they were in tight with him.” Though Strider would prove to
be a lordly ally, his vassals remained peniless peckerwoods.

As soon as Roy and Carolyn could scrape together the bus fare, she
dropped out of high school and moved to North Carolina to be with
him. She’d never left Mississippi before. Five months later she was
pregnant and took the long bus ride back to her mother’s house; the
kindly driver pulled over time and time again to let his queasy young
passenger throw up. In a few months she headed back to North
Carolina with a three-month-old baby boy and got pregnant again
almost immediately.16

When Roy was discharged from the army there was no question as
to where the couple wanted to raise their growing family. They rented
a little house in Glendora, where J.W. and his wife, Juanita, lived. It
had front and rear screened porches like Aunt Mabel’s house in
Cruger. It helped to have someplace cooler to sit that first summer,
when she was so hot and so pregnant. “I was pregnant with Lamar,
and Juanita was pregnant with Harley [and] she would come over
almost every day to help me with Roy Jr.” Carolyn enjoyed and
appreciated her sister-in-law, a quiet, soft-spoken woman whom
photographers at the Till trial found quite fetching; “downright sexy”
was how Carolyn remembered her. “When I had to go to the doctor,
she would take me, or she’d bring her car and I’d drop her off and I’d
go. I could depend on her.” When Carolyn went into labor, Roy

borrowed J.W.’s car to go to the hospital, where she gave birth to their
second son.

Roy aspired to have his own trucking business, like J.W., so the
young parents invested his army separation pay and her small savings
to buy a dump truck. Roy began to haul gravel and make a little
money. He soon hired and began to train another driver, but the
trainee crashed the truck; both men escaped the flames, but the truck
was a total loss. Worse, Roy learned that the insurance company he
used had gone bankrupt just prior to the accident. Without funds to
replace the truck, his dream was over, and he went to work for J.W.

One day in late 1953 Roy walked into their house and told Carolyn
that they would be moving. With the help of J.W. he had bought a
store in Money. Though he had rented the building, he had bought
everything inside. Whether or not this was a good idea she did not
know. “Roy never let me in on the planning of his business ventures
with his family,” she wrote. “I just accepted the fact that he was the
breadwinner in our family, and [that] I needed to do as he asked me.”
Because of the store they would have most daily necessities close at
hand, but otherwise they were still poor, unable to afford a car or a
television set.17

Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market was on the first floor in front in
a two-story brick building. The store became the local trading post for
staples, tobacco, beer, snacks, and cold drinks, a place where people
came to pass the time of day.18 The post office, the filling station, and
the store made up the business section of Money. The Bryants lived on
the first floor behind the store.19 The majority of their customers were
black. Out front, under the awning, Roy and Carolyn had “made
things fairly comfortable for the Negroes who patronize[d] their
store,” one journalist wrote, while whites chatted indoors. Several
wooden benches and two or three checkerboards with bottle-cap
checkers saw consistent use on the porch.20

Roy and Carolyn stocked the shelves with snuff, cigarettes, and
cigars and the drink box with Cokes and grape sodas and R.C. Colas.
In the glass-covered counter they put candy bars: Mounds, Baby
Ruths, Kits, Paydays, Almond Joys, Butternuts, Hershey’s bars,
Butterfingers, and Milky Ways. There was penny candy, too—fireballs

and Mary Janes, Milk Duds and peppermint sticks, Dum-Dums and
Slow Pokes—and Juicy Fruit, Doublemint, Dentyne, and Double-
Bubble gum. The cookie selections included Stage Planks, Jack’s,
Moon Pies, and all kinds of “Nabs,” as they called Nabisco cookies
and crackers and anything like them. On the counter sat a tall glass jar
of pickled pigs’ feet, another of big dill pickles, and a third of pickled
eggs, with squares of wax paper to pick them up. They sold sardines,
pork ’n’ beans, milk, Wonder Bread, eggs, flour, lard, fatback, butter,
bananas, cinnamon buns, Spic ’n’ Span cleanser, and small household
items of all kinds. The meat counter was in the back.21

•  •  •

If any of her children inherited Eula Lee’s fiery temperament, it was
the outsized middle child among the first set of five Milam children.
He was the ruling body and spirit among all of them. “J. W. Milam
was so domineering and so had to be in control all the time,”
according to Carolyn. Six feet two inches and more than 230 pounds,
an extrovert and a decorated war hero, he had black hair around the
edges of his massive bald head. “Big,” they called him, because he
took up a lot of space, literally and figuratively.22

Born in 1919 in Tallahatchie County, John William Milam attended
school through the tenth grade. He served in the U.S. Army, 2nd
Armored Division, from 1941 until the spring of 1946.23 During the
war he fought in Germany, often in house-to-house, hand-to-hand
combat, and won a battlefield commission to lieutenant, a Silver Star,
a Purple Heart, and several other medals.24 “I do remember seeing
J.W. with his shirt off one time, and he had some deep holes in his
back, and when I asked Juanita about it, she said that’s where the
shrapnel hit him when he was injured in service,” Carolyn recalled.
His mother bragged, “He started as a private and got his commission
the hard way.” The journalist William Bradford Huie described Milam
as “an expert platoon leader, expert street fighter, expert in night
patrol, expert with a [Thompson machine gun], expert with every
device for close-range killing.”25 His favorite weapon, however, was
the army .45-caliber pistol. “I can tell you how good he was with that

old pistol,” his son boasted to FBI agents years later. “I seen him shoot
bumble bees out of the air with it.”26

J. J. Breland, a local attorney, regarded J.W. as a kind of brutal
necessity for the social order of white supremacy. “He comes from a
big, mean, overbearing family,” Breland said bluntly. “Got a chip on
his shoulder. That’s how he got that battlefield promotion in Europe;
he likes to kill folks. But, hell, we’ve got to have our Milams to fight
our wars and keep the niggahs in line.” One of four lawyers who
would defend Milam and Bryant, Breland told Huie to let the country
know that integration was out of the question in Mississippi. “The
whites own all the property in Tallahatchie County. We don’t need the
niggers no more.”27 Of course this was hardly the case for the Bryants
and Milams, who relied almost entirely on African Americans for their
livelihood. Nor would they likely have agreed with Breland, despite
their relative poverty, about their social position among white

Early in her marriage Carolyn clashed with J.W. on at least one
occasion. “One thing that happened upset me pretty badly, and J.W.
and I had a few words about it.” The memory was sharp even sixty
years later. “I said, ‘I’ve got to figure out where to vote.’ He says, ‘Oh,
you don’t have to worry about that—I’ve already voted for you.’ My
first time to vote, and he voted for me.” Her resentment still sounded
fresh. “That’s what he told me: ‘You can’t go back and vote, I’ve
already voted for you.’ I told him, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me
again.’ I’d been waiting all that time to vote and didn’t get to.”

If Roy objected to his half-brother voting for his wife, Carolyn did
not remember it. J.W., fourteen years his senior, seemed to have a hold
on Roy. When other people asked why they had different last names
or referred to them as “half-brothers,” Roy would say, “We don’t
consider us half-brothers. We’re brothers.” When Big Boy Bryant left
the family, Big Milam took over the paternal role, especially for Roy.28

The younger man certainly looked up to and took his cues from his
hefty older sibling.

J.W. lived in the small community of Glendora, where he owned a
store, a gas station, and a small house. He also owned a trucking
business and an agricultural service firm; he had bought several large

trucks and could repair and operate heavy farm machinery. When he
had a long haul to make from Texas or Louisiana, he would often let
Roy handle it.29 He hired local African Americans to grade and repair
driveways and gravel roads and take care of his trucks. They would
also “wash his pickup and Juanita’s car and stuff like that,” his sister-
in-law remembered. “Clean up, sweep out the store, take out the
trash.” Huie wrote, “Those who know him say he can handle Negroes
better than anybody in the county.” Milam himself agreed with the
assessment, only adding the lie, “I ain’t never hurt a nigger in my
life.”30 Decades later Carolyn said of her brother-in-law, encompassing
more than she meant and perhaps even knew, “He seemed to have a
good relationship with them, and I think they were probably afraid of
him too.”



On Wednesday evening, August 24, 1955, Reverend Moses Wright

held services at the East Money Church of God in Christ. His three
sons, Wheeler Parker, and Emmett Till had picked cotton throughout
the morning and part of the afternoon. Summer was coming to an
end, and soon enough they’d be parted for at least a school year. So
Wright did not force the boys to attend church; instead he loaned
them his 1941 Ford, instructing them to go no farther than the nearby
country store because Maurice, who was driving, had no license. Six
boys and one girl made the drive. The oldest was Thelton “Pete”
Parker, nineteen, who lived nearby, as did Ruthie Mae Crawford, who
was eighteen, and her brother Roosevelt Crawford, fifteen. The two
youngest were Simeon, twelve, and Emmett, fourteen. Wheeler and
Maurice were sixteen. After Maurice dropped his parents off at the
church, the group disregarded his father’s imperative and drove to
Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money, only three miles away.1

When they arrived they gathered in front of the store; they’d come
for candy and drinks but were in no hurry. “I noticed a group of
young people congregating on the porch,” Carolyn Bryant recalled. “It
was not unusual for people to be on the porch as there were many
checker games played by the locals outside our window.” “Locals”
was a courtesy used decades after these events. At the time, in polite
company, at least, they were called “Negroes,” and the store survived
because they gathered on that porch “almost daily.”2

As they talked that day it is possible that Emmett claimed he
attended school with white girls and even claimed he had dated some
of them. One cousin recalled that Emmett had a picture of a white girl
in his wallet and showed it to the others, bragging that it was his
girlfriend. Mamie Bradley later wrote that Emmett’s wallet had come
with a picture of the movie star Hedy Lamarr in it, although she may
have been trying to defend her son’s reputation against any imputation
that he had a sexual interest in white girls, which would have
undermined public perception of his innocence.3 None of the
witnesses interviewed soon after the incident mentioned either a
photograph or any braggadocio from Emmett, so these may be
embroidered tales. There is some agreement among the witnesses that
an unidentified boy, not one of those who came with the group,
suggested that Emmett go inside the store to at least look at Carolyn
Bryant. Wheeler, for instance, told a reporter, “One of the other boys
told Emmett there was a pretty lady in the store and that he should go
in and see her.”4 Wheeler went in first, and Emmett was not far
behind, intending to buy bubblegum. Wheeler made his purchase
quickly and left, leaving Emmett in the store. “For less than a minute
he was alone in the store with Carolyn Bryant, the white woman
working at the cash register,” Simeon wrote. “What he said, if
anything, I don’t know.”5

Nor do we. On September 2, when Carolyn told her attorney in
private what had happened at the store, she claimed only, “I waited on
him and when I went to take his money, he grabbed my hand and said
how about a date, and I walked away from him, and he said, ‘What’s
the matter, baby, can’t you take it?’ He went out the door and said,
‘Goodbye,’ and I went to the car and got [the] pistol and when I came
back he whistled at me—this while I was going after [the] pistol—
didn’t do anything further after he saw [the] pistol.” It is crucial to
note that this account does not include the physical assault she
testified to in court twenty days later.6 The Greenwood Morning Star,
having interviewed Sheriff George Smith of Leflore County, reported
on September 1, “The Bryants were said to have become offended
when young Till waved to the woman and said ‘goodbye’ when he left
the small store Saturday night.”7 Two days later Smith added the

statement “Till made an ugly remark to Mrs. Bryant.”8 Another report
indicated that Emmett was “insolent” to Carolyn, having failed to say
“Yes, ma’am” when addressing her.9 When J.W. and Roy invaded the
Wright home with guns to kidnap Emmett, they called him “the one
that done the talking up at Money” and “the one that done the smart
talk up at Money,” so clearly they were focused on a verbal offense. If
Emmett had put his hands on Carolyn, it is unimaginable that neither
J.W. nor Roy would have mentioned it. “The talking,” “the smart
talk,” “an ugly remark”—at that point no one mentioned or even
suggested that anything physical, sexual, or threatening had happened.

Years later Ruthie Mae Crawford told the documentarian Keith
Beauchamp in an interview that she watched Emmett through the
plate glass window the entire time. She insisted that the only mistake
he made was to place his candy money directly in Carolyn’s hand
rather than put it on the counter, as was common practice between
whites and blacks.10 This alone would have violated Mississippi’s
racial etiquette. How serious a violation was entirely a matter of
mores, not a question of law. Of course, even to look Bryant directly
in the eye would be to break the “cake of custom” that accompanied
legal segregation.11

In an interview in 2005 Simeon supported Ruthie Mae’s
recollection, telling a reporter that Emmett had paid for some gum
and placed the money in Bryant’s hand, violating a Mississippi taboo
about which he may have known nothing.12 Whatever Simeon saw
propelled him to act: he quickly went into the store, perhaps to
extricate Emmett from potential trouble. “After a few minutes,” wrote
Simeon, “he paid for his items and we left the store together.”13

Wheeler said Emmett was in the store alone with Carolyn for “less
than a minute”; Simeon measured it at “a few minutes.” What could
possibly have transpired in such a short time? Between “within a
minute” and “after a few minutes” is the time frame we must fill.
Between Parker and Till entering the store, between Parker leaving his
cousin alone in the store and Wright and Till leaving the store,
something happened that Carolyn would decide deserved, what?
Something. Whatever it was made Carolyn angry enough to fetch a

pistol. On the way out of the store, Maurice Wright reported, Till
turned and told Carolyn Bryant, “Goodbye.”

Before the seven black youths dispersed, Carolyn stomped out of
the store, heading straight toward her sister-in-law’s car, which was
parked near the door. If she had been afraid, if what she had
experienced had been tantamount to sexual assault, as she testified in
court, walking through the group outside would have been an odd
choice; she could just as easily have turned the deadbolt on the front
door and stayed inside. It seems whatever happened in that store made
her more mad than fearful.

“She’s going to get a pistol,” Wheeler reported one of the boys
saying.14 Carolyn reached under the driver’s seat for her husband’s .45
automatic. All agreed that at this point Emmett let out a “wolf
whistle.” “To this day I don’t know what possessed Emmett to do
that,” Simeon said. “We didn’t put him up to it. Many of the books
and stories said that we dared him to do it. But that’s not the truth.
He did it on his own, and we had no idea why.”15

“He did whistle,” Carolyn told me, “but it was after he’d been in
[the store] and I went out to get the pistol.”

Simeon wrote later, “We all looked at each other, realizing that
Bobo had violated a longstanding unwritten law, a social taboo about
conduct between blacks and whites in the South.” The local youths
were dumbfounded. “Suddenly, we felt we were in danger and we
stared at each other, all with the same expression of fear and panic.
Like a group of boys who had thrown a rock through somebody’s
window, we ran to the car.”16

The old Ford raced down the blacktop, but any relief the young
people felt evaporated when one of them looked in the rearview
mirror and saw headlights coming up fast behind them. Convinced
that they were being followed, they decided to pull over and flee.
Scattering in all directions through the dark cotton fields, they stopped
only when the car flew past without even slowing down. Laughing a
little, they decided their fear had been paranoia and piled back into
the Ford to head home. They edged closer to the judgment Carolyn
Bryant would reach decades later: that nothing their cousin had done
at the store amounted to much.

Even so, as they drew near the Wrights’ place, Emmett begged his
cousins not to tell his uncle and aunt about the incident. They all
agreed, fearing that if the grown-ups heard about it Emmett might end
up on the train to Chicago earlier than anyone had planned.

Someone did tell Elizabeth Wright, however, and her husband soon
heard it, too, though who told them is not clear. Word was spreading.
The next evening, Simeon wrote, “a girl who lived nearby told us she
had heard about what happened in Money and that trouble was
brewing. ‘I know the Bryants, and they are not going to forget what
happened,’ she warned us.”17



Just after Emmett was kidnapped, Elizabeth Wright ran to the home

of white neighbors to ask for help. It was not yet three in the morning.
The darkness was complete, but urgency guided her steps across the
fields to the distant house where the farmer and his wife slept. Perhaps
she was too timid to explain herself well. Perhaps a black woman
wailing at the door about a fourteen-year-old boy abducted by white
men with guns frightened the couple. However Elizabeth asked for
help, the wife wanted to give it but the husband would not consent,
and Elizabeth returned home in tears, vowing to leave Mississippi
forever. She insisted that Moses take her to her brother’s house in
Sumner, so, leaving the five boys in their beds, they drove about half
an hour to the home of Crosby Smith.

Elizabeth barely paused in her flight north. After she said what she
had to say to her brother, Moses drove her from Sumner to Clarksdale
that very morning, where she caught the train to Chicago at sunrise.
She would never return to her house in Mississippi.1 Moses received a
letter from her, from Chicago, dated August 30, two days after the
kidnapping. “Come up here,” she wrote, “and tell Simeon to get my
corset and one or two slips and a dress or two and bring them to me.
If Eula sent my dress, bring it, also my stockings. I mean you come.”2

On the way back from the train station Moses picked up his
brother-in-law Crosby Smith before driving back to Money. He
intended to speak directly to the men who had threatened his life and
kidnapped his nephew and ask them to return the boy—if he was still

living. At about four or five in the morning, on a deserted street, the
two men knocked at the back door of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat
Market. Not knowing if they would be met with success or a shotgun
blast, they did so with less noise than Roy and J.W. had made on the
Wrights’ porch hours earlier.

“I heard a knock on the door,” Carolyn remembered. It was not
loud. She was alone with the children, and, fearful about who would
call on her at such an hour, she kept silent. “I heard another voice, a
different voice. The voice sounded like a black man, saying to another
person, ‘It looks like there’s nobody here.’ I heard a car slam, then the
sound of a car driving away.” The men drove to the Wrights’ house in
East Money to wait for daylight.3

At about nine on the morning of the kidnapping, Curtis Jones, one
of the three cousins from Chicago who were staying with the Wrights,
went to a neighbor’s house and called his mother, Willie Mae, to tell
her the terrible news. She called Emmett’s mother: “I don’t know how
to tell you. Bo.” Mamie’s mind began to race in horror. “Some men
came and got him last night.” Mamie drove to her mother’s apartment
at breakneck speed to share both news and anguish. Her mother
alerted their church so that the congregation could pray for Emmett.
Then Mamie did a curious thing, foreshadowing the boldness with
which she would handle this tragedy. She started telephoning Chicago
newspapers, which soon sent reporters to Alma’s apartment.4

It is important to recall what was and wasn’t possible in 1955.
Mamie surely knew there was no existing local authority in
Mississippi she could rely on, nor was there any federal authority she
could reasonably hope to enlist. One exception was the press,
particularly the black newspapers of Chicago. At some point, too, she
called Rayfield Mooty, a distant relative and a savvy labor union
official who knew all the African American political players in
Chicago; he would become a key advisor. When he got to her mother’s
apartment, Mamie told him, “Mr. Mooty, we just want you to take
the case over. Daddy got a lot of confidence in you and he says you
can do it.”5 While the fullness of her plan probably hadn’t taken shape
in her mind, Mamie was already determined that they would not
proceed quietly.

•  •  •

Watching the morning rise around his fields and porch, Moses Wright
still hoped that Emmett would come back alive, that the white men
would think better of killing him and bring him home. After a couple
of hours, though, he and Crosby Smith drove to the office of Sheriff
George Smith of Leflore County. Sheriff Smith knew Roy and J.W.
well and immediately assumed that they had killed the boy and
thrown his body in the river.6 The three men left to search for clues:
Crosby Smith rode with one of the deputies, while Moses joined
Sheriff Smith. “We looked under many a bridge that day,” Crosby
Smith recalled. “Because that’s the first thing Moses thought. It was
custom, what was being done around here in those days. We went by
custom when something like that happened, and that’s usually what
they done to ’em.”7

They found nothing. Just before two o’clock they called off the
search, and the sheriff left to question Roy. When Moses got home,
well-meaning visitors were waiting at the house. “By Sunday noon,
every Negro for miles around knew all about it,” he said. “The people
kept coming and we prayed and prayed.” Rumors began to spread
that J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant were the ones who had killed
Reverend Wright’s nephew from Chicago.8

While the Wright household prayed that Emmett was still alive,
Roy Bryant slept. As Carolyn describes the scene in her memoir, when
Roy came home in the early morning light, she asked him where he
had been and what he and J.W. had done with the boy. This scenario
supports later testimony that the brothers brought Emmett to the store
for her to identify. However, it does not close the speculation about
whether it was indeed Carolyn in the darkened vehicle hidden on the
Wrights’ property at two in the morning who identified Emmett as the
boy who had assaulted her.

Roy assured her that he’d been playing poker all night at J.W.’s
store in Glendora with his brothers and Melvin Campbell and a few
others. According to Carolyn, he insisted, “We just whipped the boy
and then dropped him off on the side of the road. That was it. We

didn’t do anything else to him.” She maintained even years later that
she had believed him at the time.9

Roy was still asleep when Sheriff Smith parked his squad car in
front of Bryant’s Grocery at two in the afternoon. He woke only when
he heard the pounding on the back door; then he quickly dressed and
stepped outside, where the sheriff and his deputy, John Ed Cothran,
were waiting. Smith and Roy got into the police car to talk. “I asked
him about going down there [to the Wrights’ house] and getting that
little nigger,” Smith testified. Roy acknowledged that he had done
that. “I asked him why did he go down there and get that little nigger
boy.” Roy said he had heard that the boy made some “ugly remarks”
to his wife. He “said that he went down and got [Emmett Till] to let
his wife see him to identify him, and then he said she said it wasn’t the
right one, and then he said that he turned him loose.” Smith asked
where they’d released Till. “He said right in front of the store. He said
he went to some of his people—I don’t remember who he said just
now—and he said he played cards there the rest of the night.” The
sheriff arrested Roy for kidnapping and booked him into the Leflore
County Jail.10

The rest of the country did not even know Emmett was missing—
not yet. Mamie was only just alerting newsmen in Chicago. Moses
spirited his grandson Wheeler to Greenwood to catch the train home
to Chicago, which left him with three sons and one grandson. He still
had twenty-five acres of cotton to pick and sell, money they would
need under any circumstances, so the boys would help him.

Sheriff Smith continued to search for the corpse and seemed
determined to build a case that would yield convictions. On Monday,
August 29, the day after the sheriff arrested Roy, the Bryant-Milam
clan gathered at Eula Lee’s store in Sharkey to discuss the situation. It
was terrible that Roy had been arrested, of course, but now they
wanted to make sure things didn’t get out of hand and sweep up the
entire family. Roy was not the strongest stick in the bundle, and there
was some concern that he might break under pressure and implicate
everyone. It was decided that J.W. would allow himself to be arrested
in order to keep Roy from “running his mouth” and changing the
story they had agreed to tell. J.W. drove straight to the sheriff’s office,

where he was immediately arrested for kidnapping. He acknowledged
that he had abducted the boy but claimed to have released him that
night, and he refused to implicate anyone else, even Roy. Other than
that, J.W. didn’t say a word.11

On Wednesday, August 31, the third day after the kidnapping,
Emmett’s body surfaced through the dark water. “I seen two knees
and feet,” said the boy who discovered it. Robert Hodges, seventeen,
was walking along the riverbank just after dawn. The ruddy-faced
sharecropper’s son kept several “trot lines” stretched across the mud-
brown Tallahatchie, and he was hoping to find them thrashing with
one of the big catfish that lurked in the cool, dark depths. But this
morning, as the dawn seared the mist off the river, the boy saw toes
protruding from the water: “[The body] was hung up there on a snag
in the bottom of the river.”12

•  •  •

Decades later Carolyn Bryant still recalled the news about the body as
a traumatic shock. After Roy’s arrest she and her two sons were taken
in by the Milam and Bryant relatives. “I suppose they contacted Leslie
or Melvin and they made arrangements,” she told me. The family kept
her isolated from the unfolding aftermath of the lynching and would
not even let her speak to anyone on the telephone. On the third day
Carolyn was at Buddy Milam’s store when Raymond, her husband’s
twin brother, walked through the door. “They found a body this
morning,” he announced. “They think it’s [Emmett Till].”

“No, it can’t be,” she said. “Roy told me he didn’t do anything to
him, that they turned him loose.”

“And [Raymond] said, ‘Well, Roy didn’t do it. Melvin Campbell
did it.’ And that’s when I told him, ‘Well, why is Roy and J.W. in jail
and Melvin’s out? Why would they arrest Roy, then?’ And he said I
was not to tell anybody it was Melvin. And I guess Raymond told [the
rest of the family] what I had said because they got us that night and
took us to a sister-in-law’s house in Lambert, Mississippi. And we
were really isolated then.”

The farmhouse in Lambert was about a forty-five-minute drive
from the Bryant store in Money. Carolyn and her sons stayed there
only a couple of days, and then the Milam-Bryant clan sent yet
another relative to move them to another safe location. “I don’t
remember who got us but it was always one of [the Milams]. Me and
my two boys, we’d stay here a couple of nights, and then they’d take
me to another relative and we’d stay a couple of nights.” The Milams
refused to let her telephone even her mother or siblings, who became
alarmed when they did not hear from her. “My brother came looking
for me, and one of the Milam brothers told him that I didn’t want
them to know where I was, that I didn’t want to talk to them,”
Carolyn told me, still sounding offended. “They were keeping me
from everybody. They were afraid that I might say something they
didn’t want me to say or I might reveal something they didn’t want

Sheriff Smith told reporters for the Greenwood Morning Star on
August 30 that he wanted to bring her in for questioning. She ought to
know something useful; after all, it was Emmett Till’s “alleged
insulting remarks” to her that provoked the kidnapping in the first
place.14 The following day, the same day Emmett’s body was found,
the New York Post reported that Leflore County authorities issued a
warrant for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant on kidnapping charges.15

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the Sheriff’s Department had
been unable to locate her to serve the warrant.16 Two days later,
strange as it seems, the Birmingham (Alabama) News announced,
“Authorities apparently have abandoned the search for Mrs. Roy
Bryant.” Leflore County district attorney Stanny Sanders had told the
Birmingham reporters that there were “no plans at present for picking
up Mrs. Bryant.”17 Fifty years later the FBI informed Carolyn that a
warrant had been issued for her arrest; that, she wrote in her memoir,
was the first she’d heard of it.18

A spokesman for the Leflore County Sheriff’s Department told the
Memphis Commercial-Appeal on September 2, “We know where she
is and feel sure we can pick her up if needed.”19 But by the next day
Sheriff Smith appeared set on leaving Carolyn out of it entirely. He
claimed a chivalrous impulse that apparently overrode the belief that

she had participated in the kidnapping. “Officers have not questioned
Bryant’s pretty brunette wife, in her early 20s, who was believed to
have stayed in the car with an unidentified man when Bryant and
Milam whisked Till from the home of his uncle in Money, Miss.
community,” stated the Greenwood Morning Star. “We aren’t going to
bother the woman,” Smith told reporters on September 3. “She has
got two small boys to take care of.”20

•  •  •

Despite the unsettling sight of human toes protruding from the water,
Robert Hodges finished checking his fishing lines, then hurried home
to find his father, who reported what Robert had seen to B. L. Mims,
their landlord. Mims called his brother, Charles Fred Mims, then
Deputy Sheriff Garland Melton of the Tallahatchie County Sheriff’s
Office. The deputy called Sheriff H. C. Strider, who telephoned his
teenage son. “My dad called and asked me did I have a boat in the
river,” Clarence Strider Jr. recounted, “and I told him I did. Then he
said we’ll be down there in a little while and he sent the deputies to go
with me.”21

Deputy Melton and Deputy Ed Weber picked up young Strider and
made their way to the landing at Pecan Point, twelve miles north of
Money, where they met Robert Hodges and his father. They took both
boys’ boats into the muddy river and quickly saw what Robert had
seen. “Well,” B. L. Mims said, “we saw a person—from his knee on
down and including his feet—we saw that sticking above the water.
And we could tell by looking at it that it was a colored person.” With
the engine humming low, they navigated over to the body. Something
was holding it head downward in the water. The men tied a rope
around the legs and used the motor to pull the body upriver a few
feet, until the weight holding the head down came unsnagged from
whatever pinned it to the bottom of the river. Towing it over to the
landing, they dragged the corpse up onto the bank. There they could
see that an iron fan, the kind used to ventilate cotton gins, was lashed
to the corpse’s neck with several feet of barbed wire. Packed with mud
from the bottom of the river, the fan weighed about 150 pounds.

Whoever had disposed of the body had intended that it never rise
from the river bottom.22

As the men examined the body, Deputy Sheriff John Ed Cothran of
Leflore County arrived, as did Sheriff Strider of Tallahatchie County.
Strider noted what looked like a bullet wound above the right ear and
that the other side of the boy’s face was “cut up, pretty badly like an
axe was used.” That left side “had been beat up or cut up—plumb
into the skull.” The sheriff estimated that the bloated body had “been
in the water about two days.”23 He dispatched Cothran and another
deputy to Money to fetch Moses Wright to identify the body. Cothran
also contacted Chester Miller, a black undertaker at Century Burial
Association in Greenwood, who, along with one of his assistants, met
them down at the river.

Miller testified that when he approached the body, it was lying
facedown in a boat. Turning it over, he saw what looked like a heavy
wheel attached to the corpse with a strand of barbed wire that “was
well wrapped” around the neck. He unwound the wire to remove the
fan. Miller turned to Moses Wright and asked, “Will you identify the
body as the boy who was taken from the house?”24

“I was standing right up over him,” Wright recalled. “They turned
him over and then I saw all of it.” He nodded at Miller, who saw no
reason why Wright should have any trouble identifying the body, even
in its state of considerable damage and decomposition. Deputy
Cothran told reporters soon afterward that Wright “definitely
identified the body as the boy.” The law officers asked Miller to
remove the silver ring from Till’s finger. Miller gestured to his
assistant, who was wearing rubber gloves. “Well, he had the gloves
on,” Miller explained, “and then I said to him, ‘Take [the ring] off.’
And then he took it off and handed it to me. I laid it on the floorboard
of the ambulance,” referring to the hearse he had driven to the river.
Miller noted that the ring was engraved with the initials “L.T.”25

As he prepared to transfer the body to a casket, Miller was stunned
at the extent of the wounds. “The crown of his head was just crushed
out and in, and a piece of his skull just fell out there in the boat,
maybe three inches long [and] maybe two and a half inches wide,
something like that.” There was a hole perhaps half an inch square

above the right ear, which Miller assumed was a bullet hole. He and
his assistant placed the body in the casket and hefted the casket into a
metal shipping case, which they then pushed into the hearse and drove
to the Century Burial Association.

Given the state of the body, there was little magic that the
undertaker’s art could perform; a closed-casket funeral seemed certain.
An officer from the Greenwood Police Department took pictures of
the corpse. Miller assumed that the family would contact him about
the funeral, but Sheriff Strider phoned Miller with an unusual
demand: he should bring the body to Reverend Wright’s Church of
God in Christ in East Money for burial that very day. Apparently
Strider wanted no one to see the condition of the corpse. Miller did as
he was told: “I delivered it to the cemetery at Money.”26

Strider announced his jurisdiction over Milam and Bryant’s case
even before murder charges had been filed against them. Although the
kidnapping had occurred in Money, which is in Leflore County, and
no one knew where the boy had been killed, Strider maintained that
the body was put into the river “a good 10 miles” into Tallahatchie
County and must have been dumped there since “it couldn’t have
floated up the river.”27 District Attorney Sanders sided with Strider:
the youth was abducted in Leflore County but the body was recovered
in Tallahatchie County, thus giving Tallahatchie jurisdiction for
prosecuting the case.28

His authority over the case confirmed, Sheriff Strider determined
that the body would be buried immediately. Charged with
investigating a presumed murder, he saw no reason for an autopsy.
They needed to get on with it, he thought. Nobody needed to see this
body. And so someone notified a few of Till’s Mississippi family
members that the body was to be buried right away and that they
might want to be present. That they immediately complied probably
illustrates the extent to which it was not safe for African Americans to
challenge white men in 1950s Mississippi, which was doubly true if
the white man in question was Sheriff H. C. Strider. Moses Wright
began preparing his eulogy, and others readied their funeral clothes.

When Curtis Jones, Emmett’s Chicago cousin, saw preparations for
burial proceeding, he called his mother in Chicago, who notified

Mamie. She was incensed. She had already decided to hold the funeral
in Chicago. She called her uncle Crosby Smith in Sumner, who
promised “to get Emmett’s body back to Chicago if he had to pack it
in ice and drive it back in his truck.”29 He drove to the cemetery with
Chester Miller and one of the sympathetic Leflore County deputies.
“[The grave diggers] had got the body out to the cemetery and dug the
grave,” Smith recalled. “I got there and had the deputy sheriff with
me. He told them that whatever I said, went.” Smith told the grave
diggers, “ ‘No, the body ain’t going in the ground.’ That body went to

Here was another moment when the Till case could have become
just another private bereavement and another mother’s appeal to her
church and the local press for justice. Had his body been buried
hastily in Mississippi soil, most of the rest would almost certainly not
have followed. There would have been a trial and some outrage, but
without the Chicago funeral, would the rest of America, let alone the
world, have paid attention?

Miller, who had already hauled the corpse from the river to the
funeral home in Greenwood and from there to the cemetery in Money,
got Smith to help him trundle the coffin back into his hearse and
headed back to Greenwood. However, he told Wright, “I don’t dare
let that body stay in my establishment overnight.” He considered it
very bad luck, to put it mildly, to defy Sheriff Strider. “I wouldn’t have
any place in the morning and perhaps wouldn’t be alive by morning.”
Wright then telephoned a white undertaker, C. M. Nelson, in Tutwiler,
forty miles west of Greenwood, and asked him to pick up the body.
Nelson owned two funeral homes: one for blacks and one for whites.
A man of considerable wealth, he also served as mayor of Tutwiler.

Nelson agreed to prepare Till’s body under one condition: Wright
had to promise that the seal on the casket would never be broken and
that no one would ever be allowed to view the body. Wright agreed,
making a promise he’d be powerless to keep, but events were moving
quickly in a new direction. The badly swollen body prevented
intravenous embalming, so to ensure at least minimal preservation
Nelson’s embalmer immersed it in a vat of formaldehyde and made
incisions to release the tissue gas.31

Thanks to Mamie, Chicago’s newspapers, radio, and television
were already starting to cover the lynching. A TV news bulletin even
interrupted I Love Lucy to report the discovery of the body. Now
word spread that Emmett Till’s body was coming home to Chicago.
Mamie now envisioned God’s purpose for her life—and for her son’s
life: “I took the privacy of my own grief and turned it into a public
issue, a political issue, one which set in motion the dynamic force that
ultimately led to a generation of social and legal progress for this
country.”32 Unlike any of the white newspapers, soon after Till’s
lynching the Pittsburgh Courier predicted that his mother’s “agonized
cry” might well become “the opening gun in a war on Dixie, which
can reverberate around the world.”33 Activists across the country
hoped and believed that this tragedy might be the wellspring of
positive change. Mamie had ensured that to her mother’s cry would
now be added the mute accusation of Emmett’s body.

A colleague wrote to the activist Anne Braden soon after the
lynching, “This 14-year-old’s crucifixion is going to strengthen and
clarify the cause of de-segregation, human brotherhood, and
freedom.”34 It would fall to Mamie Bradley to transform crucifixion
into resurrection.



On Friday, September 2, 1955, Emmett Till’s mother focused much of

black Chicago on her son’s murder and the movement it could help
unleash. “By the time we reached the train station at Twelfth Street
early that Friday morning there was already a huge crowd,” Mamie
wrote years later. A thousand people packed the platform. “I had to
be brought up in a wheelchair. I was too weak and I just couldn’t
stand up at the moment the train pulled in.”1 Reporters and
photographers from virtually every Chicago newspaper recorded the
scene. The Chicago Defender reported, “Limp with grief and seated in
a wheelchair among a huge crowd of spectators, Mrs. Bradley cried
out: ‘Lord you gave your only son to remedy a condition, but who
knows but what the death of my only son might bring an end to
lynching.’ ”2 The Chicago Sun-Times described a “hysterical scene”
after the train bearing Till’s body arrived: “Mrs. Mamie E. Bradley
jumped from her wheelchair Friday when the Illinois Central
Railroad’s Panama Limited pulled in. She sprinted across three sets of
tracks to the baggage car in which the body lay in a pine box.”
Sobbing wildly, she fell to her knees. “My darling, my darling, I would
have gone through a world of fire to get you.” With weeping relatives
forming a ring around her and the hearse backing into the scene,
Mamie yelled again, “My darling, my darling, I know I was on your
mind when you died.” As stevedores lifted the pine box into the
hearse, the Sun-Times reported, “she said softly: ‘You didn’t die for
nothing.’ ”3

The uneasiness she had felt about Emmett going to Mississippi, the
fear that gripped her when she heard that armed white men had
snatched him away, the horror when the worst that could happen
became undeniable fact, all began to flow out of her at once. “And I
kept screaming, as the cameras kept flashing,” she wrote, “in one
long, explosive moment that would be captured for the morning

That sentence encapsulates the next several months of her life.
Uncle Crosby Smith, who had accompanied the corpse from

Mississippi, stood alongside her on the platform, as did her
sweetheart, Gene Mobley, and Rayfield Mooty, now more or less her
political advisor. Smith reportedly took Mooty aside and urged him,
“Don’t let nobody see that box, don’t even let them open the box. Be
sure don’t let Mamie see what’s in there.”5 Mooty stayed close at
hand, as did Bishop Louis Henry Ford and Bishop Isaiah Roberts,
who pushed her wheelchair and prayed with her. The sight of the
stevedores hefting that huge pine box and rolling it toward a waiting
hearse made her stand up and then fall to her knees. The two
ministers laid firm hands on her shoulders. “Lord, take my soul, show
me what you want me to do,” she cried, “and make me able to do it.”6

Mamie was far from the first American mother to cry bitter tears
over a child lynched in Mississippi. On October 12, 1942, according
to an NAACP investigatory report, two fourteen-year-old black boys,
Charlie Lang and Ernest Green, were seen by a passing motorist
playing with a white girl near a bridge and charged with attempted
rape. A mob seized them from the jail in Quitman, cut off the boys’
penises, and pulled chunks of flesh from their bodies with pliers. One
of the boys had a screwdriver shoved down his throat until it
protruded from his neck. The mob then hanged the boys from the
bridge, a traditional lynching site in Clarke County. A photograph of
their bodies taken surreptitiously was released by national wire
services, but only one white newspaper, PM, printed it, though a
number of African American papers did. The New York Times
reported the lynchings without the photograph in a one-column story
on page 25.7

Only weeks before the Till lynching, terrorists had assassinated
Reverend George Lee and Lamar Smith for their efforts to register
black voters. The national press and the federal government ignored
the murders, seeming to accept that this kind of behavior was a fact of
life in the Magnolia State and a matter of little concern outside activist
circles in the rest of America. “Emmett Till was, you know, that sort
of a strange phenomenon,” Clarksdale NAACP leader Aaron Henry
told an interviewer in 1981. “White folks have been killing black boys
all of my life, throwing them in rivers, burying them, and all that shit.
Just why the Emmett Till murder captured the conscience of the
nation, I don’t know. It could have been that it was the beginning of
television and people could see things. The fact that a black boy was
killed by white men wasn’t nothing unusual.”8

Emmett’s murder would never have become a watershed historical
moment without Mamie finding the strength to make her private grief
a public matter. Today was the day he should have bounded from the
train with stories of the Delta to tell, eager to know if she’d gotten his
bicycle fixed, ready to take to the sandlots and dream he was Don
Newcombe pitching Brooklyn into the World Series. He should have
bounced into the house eager to see his dog, Mike, rescued from the
pound. He was supposed to start school in a few days, and finish
painting the garage door.9 But now his mother’s errands included
finding a way to bury her own heart, finding a way to go forward
without a reason to do so, and giving her only son back to God. She
would do all that, and she would leverage the only influence America’s
racial caste system granted her: public grief and moral outrage
sufficient to shame and anger some fraction of the nation.

•  •  •

Rayfield Mooty claimed that he urged Mamie to open the casket and
keep it open.10 But the choice to display the ruined body of her son
was Mamie’s alone to make, and there is no reason to doubt that she
made it deliberately. Even before they left the train station, the funeral
director A. A. Rayner, who had arranged for the hearse that would
carry Emmett’s body to the South Side funeral home, had clashed with

Mamie over her determination to open that box. Rayner had agreed
not to open it before the coffin even left Mississippi; she insisted that
he do just that.

In the time-honored way of undertakers, Rayner remained serene.
He had served the South Side for years and knew that many funerals
generated brief squalls about what was proper and best. Grief set
people on edge; the funeral director’s job was to absorb the tension
calmly and yet make sure that things were done right—in this
instance, that the box stay shut. “He was very patient with me,”
Mamie recalled. “He set it all out for me. It was being sent locked up
with the seal of the State of Mississippi.”

“Mrs. Bradley,” he explained, “I had to sign papers, the undertaker
had to sign papers, your relatives had to sign papers.” A number of
promises had been necessary to get the casket out of Mississippi, the
main one being that it would never be opened. No one needed to see
what was in that box anyway, he told her.

“I told him that if I had to take a hammer and open that box
myself, it was going to be opened,” she wrote. “You see, I didn’t sign
any papers, and I dare them to sue me. Let them come to Chicago and
sue me.” Finally Rayner relented.11 Before leaving the train station
either Mamie or one of her companions told Simeon Booker, a
reporter for Jet magazine, they were going to A. A. Rayner & Sons,
and Booker instructed a photographer to follow him there. “Mrs. Till
didn’t have anybody else in the press she knew,” he recounted.12

As they neared the funeral home at 41st Street and Cottage Grove,
Mamie and her entourage could already detect a ghastly odor. Inside
the staff set off spray canisters of deodorizer to cover the smell,
though the attempt was unsuccessful. Rayner showed them to a
waiting room so his staff could have a little more time to prepare the
body, but Mamie demanded to see her son’s body as it was.
Reluctantly Rayner led Mamie, her father, and Gene Mobley to the
room where Emmett’s corpse lay on a slab for embalming. “He really
didn’t think that I should look at Emmett like this,” she recalled. “But
I had kept insisting.”13

Her two companions steadied her on either side. “At first glance,”
she wrote, “the body didn’t even appear human.” But she recoiled in

horror from the realization that “this body had once been my son.”
She held herself closely in check, trying hard to “steel [herself] like a
forensic doctor. I had a job to do.” She began with the feet, noting the
familiar ankles, legs, and the knees so much like her own. There were
no noticeable scars on the body, but the huge tongue seemed choked
from his mouth. His right eyeball rested on his cheek, hanging by the
optic nerve, and the left eye was gone altogether. The bridge of his
nose seemed to have been chopped with a meat cleaver, and the top of
his head was split from ear to ear. A bullet hole just behind his temple
showed daylight from each side. The vision was ghastly, but she had
done her duty: it was Emmett’s body.

“That’s Bobo,” Gene Mobley, the barber, said. “I know that

Mamie’s last thoughts as she turned away were how her boy must
have felt that night when he realized that he was going to die. She
knew in her heart that he must have called out her name.14

At the funeral home, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Mamie
made up her mind to have an open-casket funeral, exclaiming, “Let
the people see what they did to my boy.” She dispatched Mooty to talk
with her minister about using the church. Mooty recalled telling the
man, “All we want is to have a place to lay that body where it can be
seen, that’s all. This may not stop [lynching] but this will be starting
an end to all that lynching that’s been going on down in Mississippi.
They’ve been throwing everything in the river until it be full. Now you
got a chance to be a great man if you let us use that church.”
Whatever convinced the preacher, the church doors opened for the
viewing of the body that very night.15

When Mamie informed Rayner that she wanted the casket open for
the viewing and the funeral ceremony, he did not try to dissuade her.
Instead he asked if she wanted him to retouch Emmett’s body and
make him look a little more presentable. “ ‘No,’ I said. That was the
way I wanted him presented. ‘Let the world see what I have seen.’ ”

Rayner took the liberty of slightly preparing the body anyway. He
stitched the mouth closed to cover the ghastly tongue, removed the
dangling eye, and closed both sets of eyelids. On the left side of the
head, where the beating had been most severe, he sewed the pieces of

the skull back together as best he could. The body remained a
horrifying sight. Mamie remained gracious about this slight
subversion of her will: “I told Mr. Rayner he had done a beautiful
job.”16 Inside the coffin Rayner laid the body in a glass-covered,
airtight box that successfully contained the horrific odor.

That evening, at the first public viewing, many thousands stood in
long lines around the block to pay their respects and see Emmett Till’s
mangled body; the Chicago Defender reported “more than 50,000,”
though estimates varied.17

Minnie White Watson, an archivist at Tougaloo College in
Mississippi, believed that her friend Medgar Evers, the state NAACP
field secretary, was instrumental in “talking Mrs. Till into having . . .
[an] open casket funeral” for her son. Mamie later acknowledged that
she was “grateful for his commitment and his compassion. He had
really been moved by Emmett’s murder. He was the one who had done
the initial investigation to brief the NAACP head office.”18 Evers and
his allies in Mississippi had displayed George Lee’s disfigured face in
an open casket to great effect. Though Mamie’s memoir does not
exclude the possibility of Evers’s influence, it eloquently describes how
she came to the decision:

I knew that I could talk for the rest of my life about what happened to my baby, I could
explain it in great detail, I could describe what I saw laid out there on that slab at A. A.
Rayner’s place, one piece, one inch, one body part at a time. I could do all of that and
people would still not get the full impact.  .  .  . They had to see what I had seen. The
whole nation had to bear witness to this. I knew that if they walked by that casket, if
people opened the pages of Jet magazine or the Chicago Defender, if other people could
see it with their own eyes, then together we would find a way to express what we had

Mamie and Ray Mooty continued to work the phones and keep the
case before the Chicago media. Had they not done so it would be
difficult to explain the Chicago Tribune’s report the following day,
September 3: “More than 40,000 persons viewed the body in the
afternoon and night.” The line stretched around the block and beyond
throughout the day and into the evening. So many people became
overwhelmed by emotion at the sight of the body that the funeral
home had to set up a special section of chairs outside where they

could sit and recuperate. Ushers and women in white stood ready to
catch those who fainted.20

Mourners and curiosity seekers clogged 40th and State Streets
waiting to file in to see the battered body of their hometown boy.
Many hailed from Mississippi and had escaped the violence of Jim
Crow, which seemed to fall upon them now in Chicago. Thousands
must have sent their children south in the summer to visit
grandparents and cousins, dispensing the same lecture about the ways
of white folks that Mamie had given Emmett. It could easily have been
their child unspeakably slaughtered and sent home in a pine box. This
realization inspired rage more than fear, because there on the South
Side, surrounded by tens of thousands of African Americans, with a
foothold, however tenuous, in the city’s politics and media, they knew
one thing for certain: they did not need to hide their anger anymore.21

•  •  •

When Mamie and her family arrived for the funeral service on
Tuesday, escorted through the throng by half a dozen police officers,
the barrel-vaulted sanctuary of Roberts Temple Church of God in
Christ was full to its capacity of 1,500, and thousands more stood
outside, where loudspeakers had been set up so people could hear
what was happening in the church. Bishop Ford offered an emotional
sermon based on the fiery text of Matthew 18:6. “But [whosoever]
shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better
for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck and that he
were drowned in the depth of the sea.”22 Reverend Cornelius Adams
asked the crowd to offer “fighting dollars” to help the struggle for
racial justice; $700 was immediately taken up for legal aid.23

Throughout the viewing and the funeral ushers collected money for
the NAACP and Emmett’s family, a process that would continue in the
weeks and months ahead.

“I had no idea how I could make it through,” Mamie recalled. “But
I knew that I had to do it. And I knew that it wasn’t going to get any
easier as we prepared for what was ahead.”24 Now that she had the
world’s attention, she had to decide what to do with it. As she looked

into the glass-enclosed coffin, she knew that a political and spiritual
struggle lay ahead to make her son’s death meaningful in ways that his
life hadn’t had time to be. In the face of this burden she began to lose
her grip. The Chicago Tribune reported that she “collapsed and had to
be assisted to a seat after she looked for the last time at her son’s

•  •  •

With fifty thousand coming on Friday night and forty thousand more
on Saturday, followed by three more days of crowds lined up to view
Emmett’s body, it is hard to say how many people became witnesses in
this way. The Chicago Tribune reported, “Capt. Albert Anderson, in
charge of a large police detail at the church, said that more than
100,000 persons had viewed the remains of the youth.” The Chicago
Defender’s estimate was more than twice that number, 250,000: “All
were shocked, some horrified and appalled. Many prayed, scores
fainted, and practically all, men, women and children, wept.”26

In Mississippi a few days later the front page of the Greenwood
Morning Star reported that Reverend J. A. Perkins from Tupelo had
declared at the National Baptist Convention in Chicago that the
butchery of Emmett Till “did something to everybody.” Before this
tragedy opinion among African Americans about the path to full
citizenship had been divided, he acknowledged. There would still be
differences of opinion, but Till’s slaying spurred and unified the fight
against segregation. “We are not going to be afraid of anyone,”
Perkins vowed. “We are going to battle for what is right—as human
beings—and we are going to stand against this wrong.”27

David Jackson and Ernest Withers, photographers for Jet and
Ebony, snapped pictures of Emmett’s body at the funeral home,
Withers a close-up and Jackson a full-body shot.28 Several other
magazines and newspapers printed photographs, but Withers’s close-
up of Emmett’s face, published in Jet on September 15, four days
before Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam went on trial for the killing, was
passed around at barbershops, beauty parlors, college campuses, and
black churches, reaching millions of people. Perhaps no photograph in

history can lay claim to a comparable impact in black America.29 “I
think the picture in Jet magazine showing Emmett Till’s mutilation
was probably the greatest media product in the last forty or fifty
years,” Representative Charles Diggs said in 1987.30

Television coverage of the case had an even greater impact. Few in
the summer and fall of 1955 could fathom the immense power of
television. Even many sophisticated journalists and seasoned
politicians did not yet understand that there was a new mass language
that came of age with the Emmett Till generation. This was television’s
first real “media circus,” and it made clear that civil rights stories
would not be confined to a minority of Americans or a particular
region. “The television cameras showed what the body looked like
and showed the big crowds,” recalled the journalist Harry Marsh. “All
the networks that were operating at that time took film from the
Chicago stations.” It was television, Marsh continued, that “ignited
the national interest in the story and that fed into the major coverage
of the trial.”31

The sociologist Adam Green observes that the spectacle
surrounding Emmett Till’s death “convened” black Chicago and black
Mississippi into one congregation that trumpeted the tragedy to the
world. These voices of mourning and protest emerged exactly as
Mamie hoped they would. Members of this black national
congregation launched rallies, letter campaigns, and fund drives that
transformed another Southern horror story into a call for action. In
this call and response, Green writes, “northern city and southern delta
seemed the same place, and the need for collective action among
African Americans across the nation seemed urgent as never before.”32



In many ways Emmett Till was a casualty of the anger produced by

the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education,
handed down on May 17, 1954, first dubbed “Black Monday” by
Representative John Bell Williams of Mississippi. Mississippi Circuit
Court judge Thomas Brady speculated that the mandate to integrate
public schools would compel right-minded white men to commit
violence against foolhardy black boys. Killing would be necessary,
even unavoidable. “If trouble is to come,” Brady warned in his
incendiary manifesto, Black Monday, “we can predict how it will
start.” The detonator would be the “supercilious, glib young Negro,
who sojourned in Chicago or New York, and who considers the
counsel of his elders archaic.” That black child “will perform an
obscene act, or make an obscene remark, or a vile overture or assault
upon some white girl.” This violation of segregation’s most sacred
taboo would set off a deluge of white violence against black boys. The
foolish doctrine of equality between the races, cautioned Brady, was
“the reasoning which produces riots, raping and revolutions.”1

Brady’s words are an almost eerie prediction of the murder of
Emmett Till, but at the time there was nothing notable about his
menacing fantasy of a race war. Such threats of violence were nothing
new to black Mississippians or, for that matter, to any student of
Reconstruction or the age of Jim Crow. But a new front in the war
over Mississippi had opened after 1945, when African American
soldiers returned from Europe and the Pacific. Into these renewed

hostilities the Supreme Court dropped its Brown v. Board of
Education bombshell. Milam and Bryant were not on a political
mission when they pounded on Moses Wright’s door, and they did not
kidnap Emmett Till beneath the banner of states’ rights, racial
integrity, or white supremacy. The white men carried out their brutal
errand in an atmosphere created by the Citizens’ Councils, the Ku
Klux Klan, and the mass of white public opinion, all of which
demanded that African Americans remain the subservient mudsill of
Mississippi—or die. But the battles ignited by Brown had been
brewing for a long time.

According to William Bradford Huie, Milam later justified Till’s
lynching using the terms of violent racial and sexual politics:

Just as long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are going to 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 even 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. . . . “Chicago boy,” I said,
“I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. God damn you, I’m
going to make an example of you just so everybody can see how my folks stand.”2

This kind of perverted logic, though Milam referred directly to
Brown, had also motivated the bloody overthrow of Reconstruction in
Mississippi in 1875, which was the last time the Magnolia State had
outmatched the level of racial conflict in the state in the mid-1950s. It
drove the violent massacre and coup in Wilmington, North Carolina,
in 1898, which served as a model for the Atlanta “Race Riot” of
1906. It sparked massive mob violence against the black community
in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, which helped inspire W. E. B. Du Bois
and his white and black allies to found the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People the following year. It set off the
slaughter in Elaine, Arkansas, in 1919; and the fiery pogroms in East
St. Louis in 1917, in which perhaps 200 blacks died; and Tulsa in
1922, in which as many as 300 blacks died and 10,000 were left
homeless. The logic expressed by Judge Brady and J. W. Milam was all
too familiar to nearly every American with dark skin.3

Like Judge Brady, J. J. Breland, one of Milam’s attorneys and a
Citizens’ Council official, exported the blame for the lynching

northward. Breland told Huie that Milam and Bryant “wouldn’t have
killed [Till] except for Black Monday. The Supreme Court is
responsible for the murder of Emmett Till.”4 If that was indeed
Milam’s thought, it wasn’t original to him, any more than it was to
Breland. Southern white leaders liked to pretend that they were
shocked, shocked, by the Court’s heretical ambush. For anyone who
had been paying attention, however, the Court’s decision in Brown
was not a surprise. White politicians howled as though Chief Justice
Earl Warren had ordered the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, but the
armies of segregation had seen this attack coming. “Rather than a
backlash against the unthinkable,” writes the historian Jason Morgan
Ward, “the segregationist movement was a coordinated assault against
the foreseeable.”5

The contours of the renewed battle had been visible before World
War II. As early as 1941 Mississippi’s former lieutenant governor E. D.
Schneider defended the white primary and the poll tax at an African
American agricultural fair in Clarksdale, promising that black people
would never vote in Mississippi. The black crowd booed him loudly.
Then a black newspaper editor stood and told the assembly that, in
fact, black Mississippians would vote, and soon. And if necessary, he
continued, blood would be shed in Mississippi as well as abroad to
secure democracy. The following year a member of the Yazoo–
Mississippi Delta Levee Board warned, “We are going in the future to
get quite close to the time when the darkey will be protected by
Federal law in his vote in the South, and we all know what that will
mean in Mississippi.”6 As the Magnolia State’s own Richard Wright
wrote that same year, “When one of us is born, he enters one of the
warring regiments of the South.”7

Mississippi emerged as the leader of the 1948 States’ Rights
Democratic Party, better known as the Dixiecrats. Led by Mississippi’s
governor Fielding Wright and South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond, the
Dixiecrats broke with President Harry Truman, the Democratic
standard-bearer, over his support for civil rights legislation, an
antilynching bill, measures to end the poll tax, and the establishment
of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. The
Dixiecrat revolt of 1948 captured the electoral votes of Mississippi,

Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina and presaged the rise of a
two-party South.8 Judge Brady was already a fuming Dixiecrat, calling
for a new party “into whose ranks all true conservative Americans,
Democrats and Republicans alike, will be welcomed” to battle “the
radical elements of this country who call themselves liberals.” Senator
James Eastland of Mississippi termed the Dixiecrat revolt “the
opening phases of a fight” for conservative principles and white
supremacy, and “a movement that will never die.”9

Despite its rhetorical confidence, the segregationist movement was
haunted by a disquieting sense that it no longer possessed the political
high ground. Walter Sillers Jr., a Delta cotton planter who served in
the Mississippi State House from 1916 to 1966, wrote to Senator
Eastland as early as 1950 that the African Americans were “well
ahead of us” in the battle over civil rights: “They are holding meetings
every week throughout the whole Delta counties and are well
organized, and should an emergency arise they know exactly where to
go and what to do, while our people are disorganized and would
scatter like a covey of flushed quail.”10 If Sillers overestimated the
level of preparation among black Mississippians, he was right about
their intentions.

One of the key figures in the African American resistance to
Mississippi’s racial caste system was a World War II veteran named
Amzie Moore. Nothing about Moore’s early life made it easy for him
to imagine a world beyond white domination. He was born in 1912
on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. His grandfather died at 104,
dividing the land among his seven children, who promptly lost it all in
the Great Depression. Amzie’s mother passed away when he was still a
boy, “so my father came and picked up the two smaller children and
at about fourteen I was on my own.” The abandoned youth lived hand
to mouth, depending on various relatives and teachers, and was often
hungry. He nevertheless graduated from high school in 1929, a rarity
among his generation of African Americans in Mississippi. In 1935 the
heavyset, round-shouldered Moore got a job as a janitor with the U.S.
Postal Service and moved to nearby Cleveland, Mississippi. For a
black man of his time this was an excellent job, and he kept it for

more than thirty years. He also scrambled to make money as an

To Moore the color line in Mississippi seemed so stark and
inexorable as to seem the very will of the Creator. “For a long time,”
he remembered, “I had the idea that a man with white skin was
superior because it appeared to me that he had everything. And I
figured if God would justify the white man having everything, that
God had put him in a position to be the best.”12 He told an
interviewer, “I just thought [whites] were good enough, that God
loved them enough, to give them all these things that they had. And
that, evidently, there had to be something wrong with me.”13

Moore’s deeply internalized sense of white supremacy never
precluded his devoted hope that Mississippi blacks would one day rise
to economic self-sufficiency and equal citizenship. When the freedom
movement began to stir, Moore heard it as a call to arms. His “first
knowledge of the freedom movement” came in 1940, when he joined
several thousand African Americans to talk about agricultural
modernization, school equality, and economic development. “Some
10,000 living in the Delta section in Mississippi gathered for a mass
meeting,” one of his colleagues recollected in a letter written twenty-
five years later. “At that time we were pulling for the ‘separate but
equal’ philosophy. Schools were separate but not equal.” Speakers
came from Tuskegee Institute, Alcorn College, and Washington,
D.C.14 Moore remembered the meeting at Delta State College as “our
first awakening” and “the beginning of the change.”15

Like the African Americans who planned the meeting at Delta
State, Moore defined racial uplift as entrepreneurial success: it wasn’t
just the nearest weapon to hand; it was among the most powerful. The
year after the meeting Moore became the first African American
around Cleveland to get a Federal Housing Authority loan: “I started
out buying lots, building my first house in 1941, giving it bathroom
facilities and everything there, gas, all the conveniences because I had
to convince myself that I had the capability to do it.”16 He built his
own brick house at 614 South Chrisman Street, in the middle of
Cleveland’s teeming “Low End” black business district. “Amzie,”

recalled Charles McLaurin, one of the many young civil rights
workers Moore influenced, “was middle-class.”17

World War II interrupted Moore’s ascent in 1942, when he was
drafted at age thirty. He was quickly introduced to the rude truth that
a middle-class black man from Cleveland, Mississippi, was to the vast
majority of his fellow Americans always first and foremost just a black
man. “I really didn’t know what segregation was like before I went
into the Army,” he recalled. At bases all over the country he
experienced the segregation and mistreatment of black soldiers.18 And
he resisted with some success. Matthew Skidmore, who served with
him in segregated units, including at Walterboro Army Airfield in
South Carolina, wrote a letter to Moore in 1955 after he saw a
photograph of his old comrade doing civil rights work in Mississippi:
“Reading Ebony Magazine, I saw your picture and why it was there.
Remember how we fought racial prejudice, especially in South
Carolina? Remember how we won?”19 In another letter his old friend
reminded Moore of various episodes in their battles against white
supremacy—“the theater incident” and “the busses.” He wrote:
“Remember we couldn’t use the facilities of that Tropical Club on the
base? Maybe you don’t, but all that was corrected. Perhaps you don’t
remember, but the mayor promised that the white people in his little
town would be courteous and respectful.”20

What Moore remembered more clearly were the endless slights,
insults, and even killings that occurred during his time in the service:
“Everywhere we went, we were faced with this evil thing—
segregation. If we were here fighting for the four freedoms that
Roosevelt and Churchill talked about, then certainly we felt that the
American soldier should be free first.”21 Unlike mustered white
soldiers, black soldiers encountered the fight for democracy well
before they shipped overseas. Moore found the ironies and idiocies of
his racial predicaments nearly unendurable. “Here I am being shipped
overseas, and I’ve been segregated from this man whom I might have
to save or he save my life. I didn’t fail to tell it.”22

Ironically the military authorities selected Moore to sell his African
American compatriots on their stake in the outcome of the war.
Stationed with the Tenth Air Force in Myitkyina, Burma, Moore

traveled throughout South Asia speaking about democracy and the
war. “We had to counteract this Japanese propaganda by giving
lectures to our soldiers. That was my job. We were promised that after
the war was over, things would be different, that men would have a
chance to be free. Somehow or other, some of us didn’t believe it.”23

Whether or not Corporal Moore managed to convince any of the
black troops, or even himself, that the war for democracy included
them, too, his travels all over the United States and in Mexico, South
Asia, China, Japan, and Egypt enlarged his perspective on the freedom
struggle in Mississippi. “I think what God really did with me, in this
particular thing, was put me on a ship and send me around the world.
And let me live in different environments and be in contact with
different people and to really and truly find out what was behind it.”

When his unit was shipped from California to India, this
descendant of slaves found himself walking one day beside the Great
Temple in Calcutta. When he saw the ancient splendor and “people
dying in the streets and people walking by them like they aren’t even
there,” he believed that the wisdom that built that venerable
civilization had “turned backwards” and the old regime had
collapsed. “You can’t set up an aristocracy and expect it to float,” he
ruminated. For every social order that goes up, Moore became
convinced, “there’s a coming down, and like the great wheel of time
every spoke comes on over and then it goes down in the dirt.” In that
moment his mind turned to America—and no doubt to Mississippi.
“We will have to get along with each other in this country because
that’s the only way you can survive another hundred or two or three
hundred years.”24

When the U.S. Army issued an honorable discharge to Corporal
Amzie Moore on January 17, 1946, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, he
had a four-hour bus ride to consider how he would spend the rest of
his days.25 He planned to settle down and make a life for himself, but
he was angry at the contradiction of fighting for human freedom with
a Jim Crow army. He wondered whether there was any truth in what
he had been instructed to tell the black troops about the postwar
era.26 When he arrived in Cleveland, he got his answer: whites there
had organized a “home guard,” ostensibly “to protect the [white]

families against Negro soldiers returning home.” Over the next few
months a number of black veterans in the town were killed. “I think
the purpose of the killing was to frighten other Negroes,” Moore
attested. “It certainly had its psychological effect.”27

Moore remained determined to see his wartime propaganda about
democracy move the country beyond empty rhetoric. With this in
mind he set out to build a statewide network of African American
activists to pursue the right to vote. Nothing else would be possible
without it, he believed, and anyone who could count could see that
black votes in the Delta would change things.28 By late August 1955
Moore was a successful businessman running a gas station, beauty
parlor, and grocery store. He was also the president of the Cleveland,
Mississippi, branch of the NAACP, which had over five hundred
members, and was an established force among black civil rights
workers in the South.

•  •  •

According to Moore, it was shortly after J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant
kidnapped Emmett Till that Moses Wright first called him. Like
Reverend Wright, Moore’s first response was hope: “I thought to
myself, well, he’s probably around Greenwood there somewhere. I
never thought anybody was going to lynch him. [A few days later], I
got another call.” By that time the teenage fisherman had come across
Emmett’s body in the currents of the Tallahatchie. Now harder choices
needed to be made.

Moore set out for Money even though friends told him, “ ‘You’d
better not go, they watching out for you, they’re going to kill you.’ But
I went over there. And then when I got to Money nobody would tell
me where Mr. Wright lived. He lived out from Money, but nobody
would, they claimed they didn’t know where he was. So I left and
come back.” This was far from the end of Moore’s involvement in the
case, however.29 Over the previous twenty-four hours decisions had
been made and events set on a course that would sweep up Mississippi
and Chicago, and eventually the United States and the world.

The Till case affected everyone in Moore’s activist network in
Mississippi, many of whom were also World War II veterans unwilling
to accept the old ways after a costly global crusade, ostensibly for
universal democracy. They became what the historian John Dittmer
calls “the shock troops of the modern civil rights movement.”30 Many
became NAACP leaders, especially after the Brown decisions of 1954
and 1955 shone a spotlight on school desegregation and lifted up new
leaders who rejected the “separate but equal” framework. Moore’s
network included Medgar Evers; E. J. Stringer, a Columbus dentist
who would be elected president of the state conference of NAACP
branches in 1954; Aaron Henry, a druggist from Clarksdale who
would become an important civil rights leader; the voting rights
advocates Reverend George Lee and Gus Courts; and Dr. T. R. M.
Howard, a charismatic and daring physician from Mound Bayou.31

Few were more involved than the intelligent, serious-minded
Medgar Evers. His military service in the thick of the European
theater during World War II had given him gravity beyond his years.
“He went to the army and fought for this country and came out and
we wasn’t enjoying the freedom we fought for,” his brother Charles
observed. For Medgar voting was the central litmus test of democracy,
especially in Mississippi. “Our only hope is to control the vote,” he

In 1946 Medgar and Charles and four friends registered to vote at
the courthouse in Decatur, Mississippi. When they returned to cast
their ballots in the Democratic primary on July 2, however, a small
white mob blocked the courthouse steps. “When we got into [the
clerk’s] office, some 15 or 20 white men surged in behind us,” Medgar
recalled. Menaced with guns as they were leaving, they went home,
got their own guns, and returned to the courthouse. Leaving their
weapons in the car, the Evers brothers and their companions tried to
walk in again, but once more the way was blocked. “We stood on the
courthouse steps, eyeballing each other,” Charles recalled. Finally
Medgar decided to avoid what seemed inevitable bloodshed and said,
“Let’s go, we’ll get them next time.” “More than any other single
thing,” Charles claimed, “that day in Decatur made Medgar and me
civil rights activists.”32

Medgar’s first order of business was to use his GI Bill benefits to
attend college. He enrolled at Alcorn State College that fall of 1946.
Muscular and athletic, he played running back on Alcorn’s football
team. He also served as editor of the Greater Alcorn Herald and was
elected president of the junior class. Evers worked hard, made good
grades, labored over his vocabulary, and became a faithful reader of
newspapers. He met and married Myrlie Beasley from Vicksburg, a
brilliant and beautiful young woman who would become a full
partner in his civil rights work. According to a friend, he also joined a
monthly interracial discussion group on world affairs at all-white
Millsaps College. He developed a keen admiration for Jomo Kenyatta,
leader of the Kenyan anticolonial struggle against the British; in fact,
in 1953 Medgar and Myrlie christened their son Darrell Kenyatta
Evers. Kenyatta led an armed revolution, and Medgar’s admiration
suggests that he was willing to consider any means necessary to
overthrow white supremacy in Mississippi. For African Americans in
the South the means of effecting change were always limited and
fraught with risks, but most were at least considered, their
consequences carefully weighed. The historian Charles Payne writes
that Medgar “thought long and hard about the idea of Negroes
engaging in guerrilla warfare in the Delta” but ultimately could not
square it with his religious beliefs.33

Soon after he graduated from Alcorn, Medgar renewed an
acquaintance with T. R. M. Howard and became a sales representative
for Howard’s Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. He and his
bride moved to Mound Bayou, the historic all-black community in the
Delta. His new job required he drive the lonely roads of the Delta, and
he became sharply aware of the harsh lives of Mississippi’s black
sharecropping families. “He saw whole families there picking cotton,
living like slaves,” Charles recounted. The Evers brothers came to
believe that black Mississippians’ suffering was the result of economic
exploitation, the threat of physical violence from whites, and the
denial of their right to the ballot. “Medgar vowed to improve these
people’s lives,” said his brother.34

•  •  •

Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard was the tall, light-skinned head
of surgery at Mound Bayou’s Taborian Hospital, whose all-black staff
served the black community. No civil rights advocate in the state of
Mississippi could match Howard’s charisma, charm, and wealth. In
addition to his plantation he owned a housing construction firm, a
beer garden and restaurant, some livestock, and an insurance firm. He
could afford servants and chauffeurs; pheasants, quail, and hunting
dogs; and a fleet of fine automobiles, as well as a Thompson
submachine gun and a number of other weapons. These were simple
acknowledgments of his having achieved stature and influence in a
society that demanded he never wield it. “One look,” wrote Myrlie
Evers, “told you he was a leader: kind, affluent, and intelligent, that
rare Negro in Mississippi who had somehow beaten the system.”35

Howard recruited Amzie Moore and a few others to go into
business with him. According to Moore’s canceled checks, he invested
$1,000 in the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1951,
when Howard founded the company. Within a couple of months
Moore was appointed to Magnolia Mutual’s board of directors, along
with Aaron Henry. Soon Medgar Evers joined them.36 As ever among
Mississippi’s black leaders, economics and politics were not far apart.

On the morning of December 28, 1951, Howard, Moore, and
Henry, among others, founded the Delta Council of Negro Leadership,
soon renamed the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), “to
guide our people in their civic responsibilities regarding education,
registration and voting, law enforcement, tax-paying, the preservation
of property, the value of saving, and to guide us in all things which
will make us stable, qualified, conscientious citizens, which will lead
to first class citizenship for Negroes in the Mississippi Delta and the
State of Mississippi.” Moore became the first vice chairman and
Howard the founding president. Henry called the RCNL a kind of
“homegrown NAACP.”37

The RCNL’s focus on what Moore called “the changing of the
economic standpoint,” however, differentiated it from the NAACP,
which downplayed economic development in favor of civil rights.38

The RCNL billed itself as an organization “for the common good of
all citizens in the Delta area and state, regardless of race or creed.”39 It

was trying to present to its white neighbors a more acceptable face
than the “radical” NAACP.40 Though in the early days of the RCNL
economic development was the first concern, civic questions—voting,
police brutality, and the indignities of segregation—quickly emerged.
Moore later claimed the RCNL ultimately had 100,000 members from
forty counties in Mississippi alone; these included numerous
professional people, “principals of schools, people of the Department
of Agriculture, teachers.”41

Evers soon became the RCNL’s program director, playing a key role
in the 1952 campaign targeting restroom facilities in service stations.
African Americans in Mississippi knew the dangers and indignities
that confronted blacks on the highways of the South. Most white-
owned establishments along the highway marked their public
restrooms “White only” and offered no facilities for blacks. So
African American women, children, and men had to take to the
roadside woods and thickets to relieve themselves or wait
uncomfortably until they got where they were going. If that were not
enough, Mississippi state troopers were well known to treat black
motorists with a lack of courtesy that often extended to outright
brutality. Therefore the first crusade of the RCNL was for equality on
the public roads and featured the slogan “Don’t Buy Gas Where You
Can’t Use the Restroom.”42 Evers and Howard paid a black printer in
Jackson to produce tens of thousands of bumper stickers emblazoned
with the phrase, and, according to his brother, Evers “gave out that
bumper sticker to hundreds of Negroes statewide—whoever would
take one.”43 “As time went by,” Myrlie wrote later, “Medgar and I
would see little bumper stickers with those words on the usually beat
up automobiles of Delta Negroes.” Here was a portent of all that was
to come.44

The RCNL’s crusade mobilized large numbers of African
Americans, who declined to buy gasoline from service stations that
offered them no facilities. Though technically the protest fit neatly
inside the “separate but equal” system of Southern segregation,
African Americans’ self-assertion violated the social arrangements that
segregation was fashioned to teach and defend. Victory represented a
crack in the old order: most white-owned service stations soon chose

to provide segregated restrooms, and many even posted signs
announcing “Clean Rest Room for Colored.”45

As impressive as these victories must have seemed to blacks in the
Delta in the early 1950s, the RCNL’s stupendous rallies in Mound
Bayou were its trademark. Under a massive circus tent on Howard’s
plantation, thousands of African Americans gathered to hear national
speakers and enjoy renowned musical artists. Literally tons of ribs and
chicken were served. At the RCNL’s first annual conference in 1952,
Representative William Dawson from Chicago became the first black
congressman to speak in Mississippi since Reconstruction, addressing
a crowd of seven thousand. The great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson
appeared alongside him.46 At the RCNL’s third annual meeting, in
1954, only ten days before his historic victory in Brown, Thurgood
Marshall spoke to roughly eight thousand attendees, accompanied by
eight school bands and the sixty-piece marching band from Tennessee
A&I State University, which led the “Great Freedom Parade” down
Main Street while Howard and Marshall waved from a convertible.
That evening’s panel discussion in the big tent was “The Negro in an
Integrated Society.”47 In 1955 Ebony featured a photograph of the
circus tent with thirteen thousand assembled beneath it to hear the
newly elected black congressional representative Charles Diggs from

At each of the annual rallies the RCNL’s Committee on Voting and
Registration held workshops as part of its drive to educate and
register new black voters. In many areas of Mississippi sheriffs refused
to accept poll taxes from African Americans, effectively barring them
from registering to vote. Courthouse clerks turned others away for no
reason more compelling than their own objection to black voting. For
those rare places where voting tests were reasonably administered, the
RCNL conducted classes on the Mississippi state constitution so that
aspiring black voters might pass. The number of registered African
Americans slowly increased to a twentieth-century record of twenty-
two thousand in 1954.49

The RCNL’s voter registration campaign took place against a
growing white resolve to protect “the Southern way of life” from
black self-assertion and federal intrusion. Even though their economic

system relied at least as much on government subsidies as it did the
world cotton market, Mississippi planters feared that the river of
federal money would rise with strings attached. From the very instant
that African Americans in the North entered FDR’s New Deal
coalition, white supremacist leaders preached gloom and doom for
Mississippi race relations. Persuaded that FDR’s coalition of liberals,
African Americans, and labor unions imperiled “the white democracy
of the South,” white diehards in Dixie launched a movement to defend
segregation and preserve their political power, whether that meant a
bloody battle for control of the Democratic Party or abandonment of
the party of their fathers altogether. “A few far-sighted Southern
Democrats realized in 1936 that the great Democratic River was
beginning to split into two forks,” wrote Judge Brady in 1948 as he
joined the Dixiecrat armies.

Education and voting were divisive years before the Brown
decision. In 1942 the editor of the Meridian Star rejected the idea of
federal aid for education because “camouflaged education help”
would bring Mississippi “one step closer to the intertwined evils of
Hitlerized, totalitarian rule and social equality.” Two years later a
former governor of Mississippi, Mike Connor, lashed out at the Smith
v. Allwright decision, which struck down the “white primary.” New
Dealers, said Connor, had embraced “un-American and undemocratic
philosophies of government” in an effort “to change the very form of
government from a republic to an absolute, totalitarian state of
communism or national socialism, which would destroy at home
everything our armed forces abroad are fighting to preserve.” The
national Democratic Party had fallen so low that it would “traffic
with northern Negroes to place the black heel of Negro domination
on our necks.” During the 1946 election the notorious senator
Theodore Bilbo explained why it was crucial to stop blacks from
voting, citing folk wisdom that would endure among whites well into
the 1960s: “If you let a few register and vote this year, next year there
will be twice as many, and the first thing you know the whole thing
will be out of hand.” Bilbo offered to give county registrars, who
administered the voting tests, “at least a hundred questions no nigger
can answer.” For good measure he added his favorite admonition:

“The proper time to manage the nigger vote is the night before the

And the warring regiments of Mississippi persisted in this slow
trench warfare for many years before nine white men in black judicial
robes dropped the bomb on public school segregation.



On May 21, 1954, four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in

Brown v. Board of Education, Judge Brady wrote the second of two
fervent letters to Representative Walter Sillers Jr. urging a political
response. He envisioned a new political formation that would “cut
across all factors, political groups, and embody leaders in every
clique.” He continued, “All white men in every walk of life must be
mustered out. It must be made their fight. If the Southern states do not
unify in thought and action, the NAACP will emerge victorious.”1

Brady had attended New Jersey’s Lawrenceville preparatory
academy and graduated from Yale University in 1927. He took his JD
in 1930 from the University of Mississippi, where he taught sociology
for two years, and was vice president of the state bar association.2

Ever since, he had practiced law and then donned judge’s robes in the
small town of Brookhaven. In time he would serve on the Mississippi
Supreme Court.3

A week after writing his letters to Sillers, Brady took the podium at
a meeting of the Sons of the American Revolution in Greenwood,
Mississippi, and delivered a fevered speech entitled “Black Monday.”
Its central themes were the legal fallacies and political perils in Brown.
The Court’s decision rested upon “Communistic” sociological
arguments and the Fourteenth Amendment, he argued. The former
were pernicious and irrelevant, but the amendment’s assurance of
federal citizenship guaranteed in its equal protection and due process
clauses “was filled with dynamite.” Federal troops and carpetbagger

legislatures had imposed the unlawful Fourteenth Amendment after
the War Between the States, but it had “never been of any moral force
in the South.” The illegitimate ruling in Brown ignored more than half
a century of legal precedent. The NAACP and the international
communist conspiracy were the driving political forces behind the
decision.4 Brady recalled that after the speech “several men came up
and said, ‘Judge, you ought to write that in a book.’ I told several men
in public office that I was going to wait until June and if nothing was
done about the problem, I was going to publish it. Nothing was done,
so I put it out.”5

Brady stretched his oration to ninety-seven pages by adding a
generous slathering of white supremacist clichés disguised as scientific
facts and paranoiac ravings dressed up as patriotic tub-thumping. Like
most similar fare, its driving engine was the gnawing terror of
“miscegenation” between black men and white women. The speech
and its pumped-up sequel inspired the founding of the Associated
Citizens’ Councils, which published the speech in July as a booklet
titled Black Monday: Segregation or Amalgamation. America Has Its
Choice.6 Florence Mars, a Mississippi native who attended the trial of
Emmett Till’s murderers, called it “a remarkable document, not only
because of its large impact in the fight against complying with the
decision but also because [among white Mississippians] its views on
race were widely accepted at face value for years.”7 Its circulation
throughout the Deep South arguably made it the most influential
political statement of the white South in the wake of Brown,
particularly since it became the founding handbook and doctrinal
scripture of the Citizens’ Council movement.8

The imagined beastly lust of black men for white women seized
Brady’s pornographic political imagination, and the unsullied
Southern white woman became the most important symbol of white
male superiority.9 “The loveliest and purest of God’s creatures, the
nearest thing to an angelic being that treads this celestial ball is a well-
bred, cultured Southern white woman or her blue-eyed, golden-haired
little girl,” he wrote. “The maintenance of peaceful and harmonious
relationships, which have been conducive to the well-being of both the

White and Negro races of the South, has been possible because of the
inviolability of Southern womanhood.”10

To that very day, insisted Brady, the hope of black citizens lay in an
America ruled by an unchallenged white supremacy. “The date that
the Dutch ship landed on the sandy beach of Jamestown was the
greatest day in the history of the American negro.”11 Their white
benefactors forced the African slaves “to lay aside cannibalism” and
their other “barbaric savage customs.” The enslavers gave the enslaved
a language, moral standards, and a chance at Christian salvation,
although the African American had never absorbed any of them fully
enough to transcend his primitive nature. “The veneer has been
rubbed on, but the inside is fundamentally the same. His culture is
superficial and acquired, not substantial and innate.”12 Brady
declared, “You can dress a chimpanzee, housebreak him, and teach
him to use a knife and fork, but it will take countless generations of
evolutionary development if ever before you can convince him that a
caterpillar or a cockroach is not a delicacy.” The chimpanzees were
not alone in their uncivilized shortcomings. “Likewise the social,
political, economic and religious preferences of the negro remain close
to the caterpillar and the cockroach.”13

The evils of “amalgamation” with this inferior race justified
extreme authoritarian measures in defense of white supremacy.
Brady’s prescription included the abolition of public schools, if
necessary; the intimidation of rebellious African Americans by
economic reprisals; and the institution of special courts to try and
punish “all undesirables, perjurers, subversives, saboteurs and
traitors.”14 Not to fight the Supreme Court’s usurpation of the
Constitution “is morally wrong and the man who fails to condemn it
and do all that he can to see that it is reversed is not a patriotic
American.”15 It was not the first or last time an elected Southern
official in the grip of racist outrage painted breaking the law as
patriotism, but the Cold War gave Brady a new set of brushes. He cast
the broader cause as “stopping and destroying the Communist and
Socialist movements in this country.” Race agitation was a tool of the
“Red Conspiracy,” a means to an end “in the overall effort to socialize
and Communize our Government.”16

Some years afterward Robert “Tut” Patterson, at thirty-two the
first executive secretary of the Citizens’ Council, told Judge Brady that
his decision to devote the rest of his days to fighting desegregation
came after he read Black Monday. A cotton planter and cattle rancher
from Holly Ridge, Mississippi, Patterson penned a protest letter that
helped inspire the founding of the Citizens’ Council. “I, for one,
would gladly lay down my life to prevent mongrelization,” he wrote.
“There is no greater cause.” He felt that those who shared his point of
view faced formidable adversaries but would triumph in the end. “If
every Southerner who feels as I do, and they are in the vast majority,
will make this vow, we will defeat this Communistic disease that is
being thrust upon us.”17

The author of Black Monday had watched integration coming for a
long time, but the menace grew closer with every passing year. On
June 5, 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sweatt v. Painter that
the University of Texas Law School had to admit African Americans
because no separate law school the state might build would equal the
state university’s law school in prestige and opportunity. On the same
day the Court ruled in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents that the
University of Oklahoma Law School could not simply segregate black
students inside the same law school.18 Representative William Colmer
of Mississippi replied, “It means there will be an ever increasing
intermingling of Negroes and whites in public places. It is the
forerunner of a final decision by the Court at a not too distant date,
denying segregation in all public institutions, both State and

Mississippi’s white political elite had anticipated the Brown
decision in 1954. That spring the state legislature put forward an
“equalization” program for teachers’ salaries, bus transportation, and
school buildings but delayed the program’s launch until after a
favorable ruling from the Supreme Court; any ruling along the lines of
Brown would kill it. The school budget normally accounted for a two-
year period, but in 1954–55 the immediate funding applied for only
that year; the way forward would become clear with the Court’s
decision, they reasoned. At this late date, in other words, they offered
to comply with the 1896 “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v.

Ferguson if the Court would be so kind as to avoid ruling against
them in Brown. That they could in no way afford to equalize black
and white schools without an unthinkable tax hike was beside the

•  •  •

Well over six feet tall with a sheaf of red hair, Tut Patterson was a
former Mississippi State football star and proud of his service in
World War II. After the war he managed his family’s Delta cotton
plantation, but eventually he focused his energies on “states’ rights
and racial integrity,” soon to be the banner of the Citizens’ Council.21

In early July 1954, Patterson met with David H. Hawkins, the
manager of Indianola’s cotton compress; Herman Moore, the
president of a bank there; and Arthur B. Clark Jr., a local attorney
with a degree from Harvard Law School. On July 11, two months
after the Brown decision, these men met with fourteen of Indianola’s
civic and business leaders, including the mayor and the city attorney,
at Hawkins’s home. “We elected the banker president. I was the
secretary,” Patterson recalled. “And in the space of a few short
months, it spread. The organization spread all over the Deep South
and into other states.” The manager, banker, and lawyer set it all in
motion with a late-July town hall meeting of nearly a hundred people
that founded the first Citizens’ Council.22

Judge Brady was the chief attraction at the Indianola town hall,
where he delivered another version of his “Black Monday” oration.
He first framed the new organization as a legal public group,
respectable and law-abiding, that would not encourage or participate
in violence. “None of you men look like Ku Kluxers to me,” he told
them. “I wouldn’t join a Ku Klux—didn’t join it—because they hid
their faces; because they did things that you and I wouldn’t approve
of.”23 But thereafter he fed the crowd on the raw meat of sex and
race. “School integration is the first step toward racial intermarriage,”
he warned. “Wherever white men infused their blood with the
Negroes, white intellect and white culture perished. It happened
tragically in Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, India, Spain and Portugal.

When the NAACP petitioned the Court for integration, it was to open
the bedroom of white women to Negro men.”24

“I joined the Citizens’ Council,” said one Delta physician. “They
would come up with all of this stuff about how the black boys might
molest the white girls—that was a fear. Of course, one of the fears
expressed by people like Jim Eastland, Ross Barnett, Judge Brady, and
the man down in Louisiana, Leander Perez [was that] they always
invoked the fear of intermarriage.” And so these reasonable,
respectable white men who disavowed Ku Kluxers stewed in their
politicized racial fears until they became comfortable, tacitly or
directly, with horrors. The doctor continued, “People like Andrew
Gainey over in Meridian would say, ‘Well, we can go to deportation,
we can go to amalgamation, or we can go to extermination.’ ”25

Brady’s screed reflected the spirit of panic that prevailed in white
Mississippi and drove the growth of the Citizens’ Councils. “The main
way Councils were organized was through the service clubs,” said
William Simmons, the leader of the Jackson Citizens’ Council and the
son of a prominent financier. “Patterson and I would go and make a
talk to Rotary or Kiwanis or Civitans or Exchange or Lions. We’d tell
them what the Council movement is, what fellows were doing in
different communities. Invariably the response was favorable.”
Simmons and Patterson recruited dozens of other speakers for the
Council cause, and they fanned out all over the state.26 Membership
claims and estimates vary somewhat, but roughly nineteen members in
July 1954 grew to twenty-five thousand in October, when Patterson
established the first statewide office of the Association of Citizens’
Councils of Mississippi in Winona, though it soon moved to
Greenwood. A year after the first meetings in Indianola the Citizens’
Councils boasted sixty thousand members in 253 communities and
seven states.27 By eighteen months out, Simmons claimed that the
Councils had more than half a million members; independent
investigators suggested that the truth was at least 300,000.28 Patterson
was astonished, he said, that the gathering of men who vowed to
protect white womanhood would “expand miraculously into a virile
and potent organization.”29

The feral heart of Citizens’ Council ideology drew almost equally
on what W. J. Cash had fifteen years earlier termed “the Southern rape
complex” and the delusion that international communism had
spawned the civil rights movement.30 On Black Monday, the
Mississippi Association of Citizens’ Councils charged, the U.S.
Supreme Court “based their decision upon the writings of communists
and socialists.”31 The NAACP was “a left-wing, power-mad organ of
destruction” that had been “infiltrated by communist sympathizers.”
This language presented anew the logic on which American racism has
long relied. Like many white citizens over the years, members of the
Council believed that anything that weakened white supremacy or
challenged the existing social hierarchy in any way was socialism. But
this was largely code for preserving the country’s racial caste system,
centuries in the making. Animated by this fear, the Citizens’ Council
pledged to defeat integration and deliver “a complete reversal of the
contrived trend toward a raceless, classless society.”32

The Southern writer Lillian Smith captured the Citizens’ Councils
clearly and succinctly: “Some of these men are bankers, doctors,
lawyers, engineers, newspaper editors, and publishers; a few are
preachers; some are powerful industrialists. It is a quiet, well-bred
mob. Its members speak in cultivated voices, have courteous manners,
some have university degrees, and a few wear Brooks Brothers suits.
They are a mob, nevertheless. For they not only protect the rabble,
and tolerate its violence, they think in the same primitive mode, they
share the same irrational anxieties, they are just as lawless in their
own quiet way, and they are dominated by the same ‘holy ideal’ of
white supremacy.”33

Representative Wilma Sledge announced the birth of the Citizens’
Council movement from the floor of the Mississippi legislature,
adding, “It is not the intent or purpose of the Citizens’ Councils to be
used as a political machine.” They made haste, however, to claim
credit for the passage of two constitutional amendments adopted in
late 1954 and began to throw their weight behind politicians who
backed their program.34 The Councils also gained the early support of
Senator Eastland, scores of elected officials, and the Hederman family,
which controlled the Jackson Daily News and the Clarion-Ledger.35

Their membership rolls soon included governors, legislators, and
mayors and virtually all who aspired to those offices. In only a few
months the Citizens’ Council had become a huge organization that
could speak for nearly all vested authority in Mississippi. “The
Councils were eminently respectable,” writes the historian Charles
Payne, “and in Mississippi were hard to distinguish from the state
government.”36 In fact, the state government eventually provided a
good deal of funding for them. By 1955 the Jackson (MS) Daily News
was printing Citizens’ Council press releases as though they were
reported news. Newspaper advertisements for Council membership
gave no address or telephone number for those wishing to join but
instead directed the reader to inquire at “your local bank.”37

Some of the Council’s power came from its sophisticated
communications apparatus. This quickly mutated from a single
duplicating machine to a propaganda mill spanning radio, television,
and a phalanx of speakers for any occasion. It soon included
legislators, governors, U.S. senators, mayors, and virtually anyone
who aspired to electoral office.38 Much of this noise machine focused
on correcting supposedly unfair or inaccurate views of the South in
general and Mississippi in particular. But the river of mail that poured
out of Council offices was largely race-hate literature printed by Ellet
Lawrence, a man whose unmatched power in the organization came
from his ownership of a Jackson printing company. Titles included
such “educational material” as “The Ugly Truth about the NAACP,
Mixed Schools and Mixed Blood.”39 The mainstay of Council
literature remained sexually provocative photographs of black men
and white women drinking, dancing, or embracing, accompanied by
breathless rants against race-mixing.40

This incendiary propaganda was taken as gospel truth by much of
the white South. This helps explain the response of Council members
to the scorn the world heaped on Mississippi in the wake of the
lynching of Emmett Till. Outside condemnation enraged white
Mississippians, most of whom saw the press reports as grossly unfair.
To resist these slanders against the Magnolia State, the Citizens’
Council leadership launched its own monthly newspaper, the Citizen,
in the eleven states of the former Confederacy plus Missouri.41

William Simmons became the first editor and wrote most of the stories
for what soon became forty thousand subscribers. The paper
illuminated the views and activities of the Councils and portrayed
black Southerners as loyal darkies, utter buffoons, or, as one observer
put it, “the Mau Mau in Africa.”42

Economic reprisals against anyone, black or white, who favored
racial equality were the Councils’ standard method. Black teachers
who overstepped Jim Crow’s boundaries, openly favored racial
equality, or were known to have joined the NAACP could count on
losing their job. Black sharecroppers who registered to vote, signed a
school desegregation petition, attended an NAACP meeting, or
otherwise made known their dissatisfaction with the prevailing social
order were in for trouble. “We won’t gin their cotton; we won’t allow
them credit; and we’ll move them out of their houses if necessary, to
keep them in line,” said one Yazoo County planter.43

Council members would obtain the names of dissidents and then
contact their employers. If the employers were sympathetic, the
member would ask them to tell the offending employees to take a
vacation. If they ceased the offending activity, the employer might let
them come back to work. If not, the “vacation” was permanent. In
cases where the intransigent citizen was an independent merchant,
farmer, or craftsman, credit could be cut off or wholesalers persuaded
to stop providing necessary supplies. If these means did not prove
effective, a visit from a local Citizens’ Council member was in order.
“They’d come and tell them, ‘You’ve lived in this community a long
time and if you want to stay here in peace, you’d better get your name
off this list,’ ” explained Medgar Evers. Personal visits tended to be
persuasive as the implied threats grew more and more clear. The
Citizens’ Councils could publicly declare their unwillingness to use
violence because other whites, including Council members, were
reliably willing to exercise it, and African Americans, without
meaningful benefit of laws or police, were grossly exposed. The
NAACP did what little it could. “We are investigating every case of
intimidation that comes to our attention and action is being taken as
fast as we can move,” reported Ruby Hurley of the NAACP’s
Southeast Regional Office in September 1955. “We have conferred

with officials in the Department of Justice about the murders and
other acts of violence and intimidation which have occurred in

The state NAACP president E. J. Stringer reported all manner of
pressures and reprisals against him in the wake of the 1954 school
petitions. His dental supplies vendor suddenly refused him credit. His
insurance company canceled his policies. Loyal patients told him they
had to patronize other dentists or risk losing their job. The IRS
audited his finances. Banks in Mississippi refused to loan him money.
His wife lost her teaching job. Death threats made answering the
telephone a dicey proposition. The Stringers began to sleep in a middle
bedroom as a precaution against bombings. “I had weapons in my
house,” he recalled. “And not only in my house, I had weapons on me
when I went to my office, because I knew people were out to get me.”
He kept a pistol out of sight but close at hand even when he worked
on teeth or did his paperwork. “I would take my revolver with me and
put it in the drawer, right where I worked.” Brave soul that he was,
Stringer decided not to run for reelection in late 1954, and Dr. A. H.
McCoy, a physician from Jackson, replaced him.45

McCoy was barely in office before the death threats began. The
Jackson Daily News warned that if the NAACP persisted in pushing
school integration petitions, “bloodshed” would be inevitable. After
the NAACP filed its local school petition in Jackson, Ellis Wright,
president of the local Citizens’ Council, snapped, “We now tell the
NAACP people they have started something they will never finish.”
McCoy took the U.S. Supreme Court at its word, however. He replied,
“We just gave them the courtesy title of petitions. They were more in
the nature of ultimatums.” If violence erupted, he assured the
newspaper’s readers, black blood would not run down the streets
alone: “Some white blood will flow, too.”46

The editors of the Jackson Daily News warned in a front-page
editorial that McCoy had crossed a line with his defiant remarks and
that “self-respecting, law-abiding, peace-loving, hardworking
Negroes” would not “follow [McCoy] in an attempt to force Negro
children into white schools.” They could not possibly want these
radical measures. It was therefore up to this respectable class of

African Americans to “openly repudiate McCoy, put a padlock in his
mouth and [make] a summary end to his activities that will, if left
unchecked, inevitably lead to bloodshed. . . . If not suppressed by his
own race, he will become a white man’s problem.”47

The Citizens’ Councils primly disavowed the violence and the kind
of threats that had worn down Stringer. Judge Brady even claimed that
the Councils “were the deterrent, the one deterrent, that kept [out] the
organization of mobs and the operation of lynch laws in
Mississippi.”48 Their day-to-day language, however, was the language
of battle. Their flyers openly reflected intimidation and threats. The
national office of the NAACP granted that perhaps the Citizens’
Council did not itself order or commit acts of terrorism, violence, and
murder, but it did create “the atmosphere in which it was possible for
the Chicago boy, Emmett Till, to be murdered and for the perpetrators
of the crime to escape justice.” The power of the Council surely
encouraged terrorists to believe they could act without fear of

Tut Patterson knew that white terrorism was endemic to the
segregationist cause but dismissed occasional violence as the
irresponsible errors of “certain crackpots, fanatics and misguided
patriots,” for which the Citizens’ Council movement could hardly be
blamed.50 In fact, the Councils claimed, their organization actually
existed in large measure to avoid the clashes that the NAACP’s
extremism made almost inevitable. Despite the official line, however,
violence often followed when the local Council’s efforts to coerce or
intimidate civil rights advocates did not have the desired effect. The
Council’s relationship to violence went deeper than that, however.
One of the founders and financiers of the Citizens’ Council movement
said of the Till murder that it was “a shame that [Milam and Bryant]
hadn’t slit open [Till’s] stomach so that his body would not have risen
in the river.”51 Eight years after the murder, when a Council member
murdered NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, three bank presidents
in Greenwood headed the White Citizens Legal Fund that financed the
defense of the killer. Stated the Council, “We do not condone the
murder of Medgar Evers and, of course, we have no idea of the guilt
or innocence of the accused but we feel he is entitled to a fair trial.”52

This reciprocal arrangement was transparent. When one small town
debated swimming pool desegregation in the mid-1950s, a patrician
Citizens’ Council member suggested, “I figure any time one of them
gets near the pool, we can let some redneck take care of him for us.”53

Phillip Abbott Luce, a white scholar who infiltrated the Citizens’
Council in Mississippi soon after the lynching of Emmett Till, reported
that he’d been told “the Council can do anything the Klan can do if it
has to.”54 Only a few days before Till’s murder, Ruby Hurley wrote to
Gloster Current, the NAACP’s national director of branches, to
inform him that in the Mississippi Delta “the situation is at the point
of explosion, particularly in the western part of the state, which
includes the Delta.” Hurley cited the “inflammatory editorials and
columns” in the Jackson Daily News. “The White Citizens’ Councils
are becoming more brazen in their intimidation tactics—telephone
calls, sending of hearses as was done to Jasper Mims of our Yazoo
City Branch, threatening letters through the mails, circulation of the
scurrilous literature enclosed etc. etc.” She noted, too, the popularity
of Judge Brady’s Black Monday and the murder of a voting rights
activist on the Brookhaven Courthouse lawn. “Reports from
Cleveland”—Amzie Moore’s hometown—“are bad.” One of the FBI
agents sent to investigate a murder in Belzoni was a close friend of
Citizens’ Council officials in a nearby county, she lamented. The last
sentence in her report, filed only days before the murder of Emmett
Till, was this: “Something must be done to protect our people.”55

•  •  •

Despite the terror of the mid-1950s, both the RCNL and the NAACP
in Mississippi had some cause for modest optimism: the RCNL’s
campaigns had won small victories, and their rallies attracted
thousands, and NAACP membership grew steadily. Several thousand
African Americans added their names to the voting rolls, swelling their
number to the highest tally since the violent overthrow of
Reconstruction eighty years earlier. Lawsuits and the NAACP’s long
march through the nation’s courts persuaded two Mississippi
governors in succession to begin to equalize teachers’ salaries and

build new black schools. In 1953, a year before Brown, the state
senate refused to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that
would have allowed the legislature to abolish public schools should
the U.S. Supreme Court mandate school desegregation. In this volatile
atmosphere Brown emboldened the Mississippi NAACP to strike hard
at school segregation and to demand voting rights. The white response
would plunge Mississippi into violent racial battles unmatched since
the bloody 1870s.

In the wake of Brown, the state’s NAACP president E. J. Stringer
decided to follow the national NAACP’s agenda of seeking “the
removal of all racial segregation in public education  .  .  . without
compromise of principle.” It was one thing to pass such resolutions in
Atlanta or to approve of them in New York, but quite another to act
on them in Mississippi. Nonetheless Stringer pushed the state branches
to petition their local school boards to “take immediate steps to
reorganize the public schools . . . in accordance with the constitutional
principles enunciated by the Supreme Court on May 17” and to
threaten legal action if necessary.56

The uncertain legal power of these petitions and the “communist-
inspired” NAACP fueled paranoia if not panic among many white
Mississippians. In Amite County a mob of twenty or so whites led by
the sheriff and a member of the school board burst into an NAACP
meeting at the local black school, snatched away the chapter’s records,
and interrogated the members. In Kemper County a large mob of
heavily armed whites led by the sheriff appeared on the first day of
classes at an all-white school because of alarming rumors that a group
of black parents intended to enroll their children. In the fall of 1954
the Mississippi state legislature resubmitted a constitutional
amendment to give them legal power to abolish the public schools and
replace them with publicly funded “private” academies.

That summer thirty African Americans in Walthall County
petitioned to allow their children to attend the previously all-white
public schools there. School officials responded by closing the local
black schools for two weeks and firing a school bus driver who had
signed the petition.57 At the subsequent hearing the board chair
exclaimed, “Nigger, don’t you want to take your name off this petition

that says you want to go to school with white children?”58 After
further protests and threats from local whites, all thirty of the
petitioners withdrew their names. Some insisted they had not
understood the petition’s contents and thought it was seeking equal
school facilities, not attendance at white schools.59

It is doubtful that the petitioners in Walthall County actually
misunderstood their own desegregation petition. It is certain that they
knew their pursuit of justice put their children directly in harm’s way,
which helps explain why some African American leaders in the state
declared equal facilities a sufficient ambition. Unable to reach any
lasting consensus among themselves, many thought school
equalization—the fulfillment of Plessy, not Brown—seemed both more
likely and perhaps more desirable. J. H. White, president of
Mississippi Vocational College, pleaded with the NAACP leadership
to pursue “adequate facilities and other things that our people need
first and when you lay that foundation you have made a great
contribution and many other problems will be solved in years to
come.”60 Neither side, White believed, was ready for full-blown
integration. Far more often black leaders simply agreed with T. R. M.
Howard’s astute assessment that “to petition school boards in
Mississippi at the present time is like going to hunt a bear with a cap

That the NAACP in Mississippi proceeded to battle for school
desegregation and voting rights in this atmosphere is remarkable. Six
days after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown II,
telling school authorities to move “with all deliberate speed,” the
Mississippi NAACP directed its branches to organize black parents to
petition local school boards to desegregate the schools. None of these
parents could have had the slightest illusion as to the confrontation
they were facing, the certainty that it would call forth violence, and
the possibility of that violence being visited on their children. Percy
Greene, the conservative black editor of the Jackson Advocate, called
the NAACP’s school desegregation crusade “leading a group of
unthinking and unrealistic Negroes over the precipice to be drowned
and destroyed in the whirlpool of hate and destruction.” The
Mississippi NAACP begged to differ. The Vicksburg chapter filed the

first petition on July 18, calling on the local school board to “take
immediate concrete steps leading to the early elimination of
segregation in the public schools.”62

The white power structure responded with the strength of public
opinion—and implicit threats. When the Vicksburg Post published the
names of all those parents who had signed the petition, several asked
that their names be removed. By mid-August NAACP chapters in
Natchez, Jackson, Yazoo City, and Clarksdale filed similar petitions.
As advised by the state conference, the Yazoo City branch asked the
school board for “reorganization” of the school system on a “non-
discriminatory basis.” In each case the Citizens’ Council published
signers’ names, addresses, and phone numbers in large ads in the local
newspaper. Reprisals, threats, and intimidation inevitably followed.
“If the whites saw your name on the list,” said Aaron Henry, “you just
caught hell.”63

Death threats became routine for the petitioners. Many lost their
jobs, as did their loved ones. Local banks called in their loans or
forced those who signed to withdraw their money. Rocks and bullets
flew through their windows. Insurance companies canceled their
policies. “In each instance there has been some form of economic
reprisal or physical intimidation,” Medgar Evers reported to the
national office. The number of petitioners who withdrew their
signature grew quickly: in Clarksdale 83 of 303; in Vicksburg 135 of
140; in Jackson 13 of 42; and in Natchez 54 of 89.64

“In Yazoo City, in particular, signers have been fired from their
jobs,” Evers reported. “Telephone calls threatening the lives of the
persons, have created a continued atmosphere of tenseness which has
the city’s two racial groups on edge.” Fifty-one of the fifty-three
signatories of the Yazoo City petition soon removed their names; the
other two had already left town. In fact, even though NAACP
membership in Mississippi swelled in 1954 and grew by 50 percent in
1955, the Yazoo City branch, which before the petition had two
hundred members, soon ceased to exist.65 Evers wrote to the national
office a few months later, “Honestly, Mr. Wilkins, for Yazoo City there
doesn’t seem to be much hope. The Negroes will not come together
and our former president has not cooperated at all. It appears that

[members of the Citizens’ Council] have gotten next to him and we
can’t get any results, not even [to] call a meeting. One thing, the
people are afraid—I would say it is worse than being behind the Iron

Virtually every black activist in the state had heard the rumor of the
Citizens’ Council “death list.” Arrington High, who put out a small
newspaper in Jackson called Eagle Eye: The Women’s Voice, wrote on
August 20, 1955, a week before the murder of Emmett Till, “Citizens’
Council members in Leflore County, ‘Eagle Eye’ alleges, met last
Thursday and prepared a list of Negro men to be murdered.” High
noted that his source “happens to be a peckerwood.” According to
High, the “Citizens’ Council has ordered that no law enforcement
body in ignorant Mississippi will protect any Negro who stands upon
his constitutional rights.” He also directly addressed the white men
threatening him: “To white hoodlums who are now parading around
the premises of Arrington W. High, editor and publisher of ‘The Eagle
Eye,’ at 1006 Maple St., Jackson, Miss.—this is protected by armed
guard.”67 Frederick Sullens, editor of the Jackson Daily News,
predicted, “If a decision is made to send Negroes to school with white
children, there will be bloodshed. The stains of that bloodshed will be
on the Supreme Court steps.”68

It was in this context that a Chicago teenager walked into Bryant’s
Grocery and had his fateful encounter with Carolyn Bryant. After
Till’s murder defense attorney J. J. Breland told William Bradford
Huie, “There ain’t gonna be no integration. There ain’t gonna be no
nigger voting.” He saw the murder as part of a larger struggle: “If any
more pressure is put on us, the Tallahatchie River won’t hold all the
niggers that’ll be thrown in it.”69


P E O P L E W E D O N ’ T N E E D A R O U N D


Indifference to black lives did not begin in the twenty-first century.

Nor was Mississippi entirely a foreign country to the rest of America
in the 1950s. It simply did not matter to most white Americans what
happened to black Mississippians; they did not know and did not
want to know, and routine terrorism did not dent that indifference
until the Emmett Till case. In the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of
Education decision, for example, one Delta legislator declared that “a
few killings would be the best thing for the state.” A few judicious
murders now, he suggested, “would save a lot of bloodshed later on.”1

In a speech in Greenville the president of the Mississippi Bar
Association included “the gun and the torch” among the three main
ways to defend segregation.2 NAACP activists in Mississippi endured
scores of acts of intimidation. Whites opposed to school integration
and black voting would “put the hit man on you,” Aaron Henry
recalled of that era. “I could call a roll of the people who died.”3

Reverend George Lee of Belzoni, Mississippi, would be one of the first
on any such roll.

In the South’s calculation it took only “one drop” of black blood to
make a person black. So George Lee, born in 1902 to a white father
and a black mother, was black. All Lee knew about his father was that
he was a white man who lived in the Delta. Lee’s stepfather was

abusive, and his mother died when he was a little boy; her sister took
the boy in, and he graduated from high school, a rarity at the time.

While still a teenager Lee took off for the port city of New Orleans,
two hundred miles south. He worked on the docks unloading banana
boats from Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, the
Windward Islands, and the Ivory Coast. In the evenings he took
courses in typesetting, hoping to learn a trade that would reward his
strong mind rather than employ his strong back. Deep inside,
however, even before he left Mississippi, Lee had felt the tug of the
Holy Spirit to become a minister. By moving to New Orleans he had
“evaded” the call for several years, he later said, but he finally gave in
to the Lord. In the 1930s he returned to Mississippi to accept a pulpit
in Belzoni, the seat of Humphreys County.4

Belzoni was home to four or five thousand people, two-thirds of
them black, nearly all of whom lived in stark poverty. Among
Mississippi’s network of civil rights activists, “Bloody Belzoni” had a
reputation as “a real son of a bitch town” where white lawmen
policed the color line relentlessly. Whites told a journalist after the
Brown decision that “the local peckerwoods” in Belzoni “would shoot
down every nigger in town before they would let one, mind you, just
one enter a damn white school.”5 The white manager of the local
Coca-Cola bottling plant told a reporter for the New Republic, “If my
daughter starts going to school with nigras now, by the time she gets
to college she won’t think anything of dating one of ’em.” Like
interracial dating, black voting was also a self-evident abomination:
“This town is seventy percent nigra; if the nigra voted, there’d be
nigra candidates in office.”6

Although in 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled the “white
primary” unconstitutional, white Democrats in Mississippi continued
to insist that aspiring black voters could be barred from the
Democratic primary as though it were a private club. “I don’t believe
that the Negro should be allowed to vote in Democratic primaries,”
said Thomas Tubb, the chair of the state Democratic Executive
Committee. “The white man founded Mississippi and it ought to
remain that way.”7 One banner headline in the Jackson Daily News
declared, “Candidates Say Delta Negroes Aren’t Democrats,” which

expressed the editors’ most presentable public argument against black
voting.8 This was a plain violation of both the Fifteenth Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution and a U.S. Supreme Court decision that had
been in effect for more than a decade. But the government of the
United States failed to see that the national honor was at stake in the
white South’s open denial of citizens’ voting rights. Only the NAACP
and small groups of activists objected. Most Americans, North and
South, kept silent.

Those who organized Mississippi’s effort to block blacks from
voting did so without shame. The day before the murder of Emmett
Till, Thomas Tubb announced that no African American would ever
be allowed to vote in Clay County, where he made his home, “but we
intend to handle it in a sensible, orderly manner.” Blacks “are better
off” not voting, Tubb continued, than being “given a whipping like
some of these country boys plan to do.”9 Ten days later Tubb insisted
he knew of “no widespread or systematic effort to deny Negroes the
voting right,” but a day after that denial he appointed a statewide
committee “to study ways of cutting down the numbers of Negro

Mississippi had the highest percentage of African Americans in the
country and the lowest percentage registered to vote. In the thirteen
counties with a population more than 50 percent African American,
black people cast a combined total of fourteen votes. In five of those
counties, not one African American was a registered voter; three listed
one registered African American who never actually voted. In the
seven counties with a population more than 60 percent black, African
Americans cast a combined total of two votes in 1954.11 Even so, on
April 22, 1954, the Mississippi legislature passed a constitutional
amendment explicitly designed to keep black people from the polls: it
required citizens wishing to vote to submit a written explanation of
the state constitution to the registrar, who would determine whether
the interpretation was “reasonable.”12 Seven months later, as the first
Brown decision rocked the state, Mississippi voters ratified the
amendment by a five-to-one margin.13 The Associated Citizens’
Councils of Mississippi, determined to block African American voting
at all costs, declared that it was “impossible to estimate the value of

this amendment to future peace and domestic tranquility in this

To reduce the number of black ballots, the Citizens’ Councils had
relied mainly on economic pressure, but the message could arrive in
considerably starker terms. On July 30, 1955, Caleb Lide, one of the
tiny handful of registered voters in Crawford, received an unsigned
letter threatening, “Last warning. If you are tired of living, vote and

•  •  •

Despite Belzoni’s tough side, Reverend Lee’s hard work and spiritual
depth helped him achieve a good life there. A gifted and fiery preacher,
Lee eventually became pastor at three small churches.16 “Unlike his
brethren,” wrote the renowned black journalist Simeon Booker, “he
preached well beyond the range of Bible and Heaven and the Glory
Road.”17 He saw nothing eternal about the Jim Crow social order, and
apparently his convictions were infectious. In 1936, when he was
thirty-two, he married a steady, quiet twenty-one-year-old named
Rose. He and Rose ran a brisk printing business out of the rear of the
small grocery store they operated in their house at 230 Hayden Street,
in the heart of Belzoni’s black community, and Reverend Lee became a
leader in the community. “He had a thinking ability better than most
of the others,” his wife recalled, “so they came to him.”18

In the early 1950s Dr. T. R. M. Howard recruited Lee as vice
president of the Regional Council on Negro Leadership. Lee’s
eloquent speeches at RCNL rallies became legend. In one much-lauded
address to ten thousand black citizens gathered in Mound Bayou he
said, “Pray not for your mom and pop. They’ve gone to heaven. Pray
that you can make it through this hell.”19 Booker called Lee “a tan-
skinned, stumpy spellbinder” and found his oratory irresistible:
“Backslapping the Delta farmers and giving each a sample of his fiery
civil rights message, Lee electrified crowds with his down-home
dialogue and his sense of political timing.”20 Many of Lee’s listeners
came to regard him as the most militant preacher in the Delta.21

In 1952 and 1953, with the help of Medgar Evers, Lee and his
friend Gus Courts, a grocer, organized the Belzoni branch of the
NAACP. Courts became the first branch president, and Lee was soon
the first black citizen registered to vote in Humphreys County since
the end of Reconstruction.22 They held a number of voter registration
meetings, for which Lee printed leaflets. According to Courts and Roy
Wilkins, the national NAACP executive director, they managed to
register roughly four hundred African Americans. When Sheriff Ike
Shelton refused to accept poll tax payments from African Americans
and ordered Lee to “get the niggers to take their names off the
[registration] book,” Lee and Courts threatened to sue him.23

This affront brought down the wrath of the Citizens’ Council,
which launched a campaign of intimidation and reprisal that soon
forced virtually all black voters to remove their names from the
registration rolls. By May 7 the number of African American voters in
the county fell to ninety-two.24 Local white wholesalers refused to sell
Courts wares for his store or to extend him credit. If he didn’t take his
name off the registration list, they told him, he would lose his lease.
No doubt frustrated that economic reprisals were not working,
Citizens’ Council leaders next assured Lee that if the two men would
simply remove their names and cease their registration efforts the
Council would protect him and Courts from harm.25

The implicit threat was something to weigh soberly. White men had
recently beaten two black ministers who had advocated the ballot for
African Americans at Starkville and Tupelo.26 In Belzoni the NAACP’s
adversaries responded to the successful voter registration drive by
smashing the windshields of eighteen parked cars on a single street in
the black community and shattering the windows of a number of
black-owned businesses. The vandals left a note that promised, “You
niggers paying poll tax, this is just a token of what will happen to
you.”27 On an evening in the spring of 1955 a mob of white men
swarmed Elks’ Rest, a local African American social hall, smashed up
the place, destroyed equipment, tore up the checkbook, and left this
note: “You niggers think you will vote but it will never happen. This is
to show you what will happen if you try.”28

By May 7, 1955, Lee had received countless death threats by phone
and mail, including from one anonymous caller who said, “Nigger,
you’re number one on a list of people we don’t need around here any
more.” That night Lee drove downtown to pick up a suit from the dry
cleaner’s for church the next day. It was after eleven, but relationships
were informal among the town’s black merchants and Lee knew that
his friend, who lived in the same building where he kept his dry
cleaning shop, would not mind pulling a clean suit out of the back

Heading home, Lee drove past Peck Ray, a local handyman, and
Joe David Watson Sr., a gravel hauler. Both men belonged to the local
Citizens’ Council. Watson had been arrested recently for shooting into
a black sharecropper’s home, but District Attorney Stanny Sanders
had chosen not to try the case. According to records from the FBI
investigation conducted later, witnesses said “they saw two men leave
a downtown street corner where they had been standing, enter Ray’s
green, two-toned Mercury convertible, drive away and return shortly
afterward. Several witnesses saw a convertible fitting that description
following Lee with only its parking lights on.”30

As Lee neared his home in a black neighborhood, the convertible
pulled up behind him. Witnesses thought one of the passengers in the
car looked like Sheriff Ike Shelton.31 The first shot flattened one of
Lee’s tires. Then the Mercury pulled up alongside Lee’s car, and a .20-
gauge shotgun blast blew away his lower left jaw. Lee’s car careened
into a nearby frame house, collapsing the porch and knocking a huge
hole in the front wall. Blood pouring from his head, Lee staggered
from the wreckage. A passing black taxi driver saw him collapse and
whisked him off to Humphreys County Memorial Hospital, but Lee
died in the backseat. A coroner’s jury found that he died from blood
loss from wounds caused by about two dozen number-three
buckshot.32 Yet the Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s headline the following
day was “Negro Leader Dies in Odd Accident.” The FBI report on the
case noted, “Sheriff I. J. Shelton made public statements that the metal
fragments in Lee’s jaw were most likely fillings from his teeth.” This
was a little over three months before the murder of Emmett Till.33

Less than an hour after the midnight shotgun blasts took Lee’s life,
operators for Belzoni’s telephone system reportedly began telling black
customers that all of the town’s long-distance lines were in use. So
Lee’s friends sped north to Mound Bayou to inform Dr. Howard, who
called Representative Charles Diggs in Michigan, who called the
White House. Others raced to Jackson to tell Medgar Evers and A. H.
McCoy, the president of the state conference of NAACP branches.
Evers assembled all the known facts for the national press. “It was
clearly a political assassination,” recalled Roy Wilkins at the national
office, “but the local lawmen practically pretended that nothing had
happened.”34 In his annual report for the Mississippi state office Evers
was blunt: “[Lee’s] independent business, print shop and grocery,
made it difficult to squeeze him economically, so their only alternative
was to kill him.”35

McCoy called Ruby Hurley, the NAACP southeastern district
director, who was on assignment in Panama City, Florida. She caught
the first morning plane to Jackson, where she met Evers, who drove
her south to Belzoni. Hurley noticed that Evers was unusually defiant
and carried a gun. “Medgar was brand-new then and had some ideas
we had to change,” she said, adding that he was “anything but
nonviolent.” Seeing an unmarked sheriff’s car on their trail, Hurley
decided to keep quiet about it: “I was afraid he might stop and ask the
man what he was following us for.” In Belzoni they found the black
community braced with rage and terror: many residents feared what
might happen next, while others openly advocated revenge.36

Hurley persuaded Wilkins to have the national office match a $500
reward offered by the RCNL for any information leading to the arrest
and conviction of the murderers.37 Word came to Evers and Hurley
that a man named Alex Hudson and a young female schoolteacher
had witnessed Lee’s murder from a porch directly across the street.
Hudson had fled to the home of relatives in East St. Louis the very
next day.38 The schoolteacher “moved suddenly from her home during
the night and has not been heard from since,” an NAACP investigator

While the Mississippi and New York offices of the NAACP sought
evidence, Lee’s family made funeral arrangements. They originally

planned to hold the services in the sanctuary of Greengrove Baptist
Church, a few blocks from the Lee home; however, it became clear
that the church would hold only a fraction of the two thousand
mourners. So deacons moved the pews onto the church lawn, while
the funeral home director had his men place the casket on the back of
a large flatbed truck, which they parked against the rear wall of the
brick church, where they built a rough altar and a podium for the

Rage as well as sorrow gripped the huge crowd as Reverend W. M.
Walton opened the proceedings.41 The service was interrupted several
times by shouts of “He was murdered!” The mood was angry, even
vindictive; Richard West, active in the RCNL and a staunch member
of the Greenwood NAACP, attended the funeral carrying a .38
revolver; his wife packed a .32, and his mother carried a
switchblade.42 T. R. M. Howard addressed the crowd, declaring, “We
are not afraid. We are not fearful. . . . Some of us here may join him,
but we will join him as courageous warriors and not as cringing
cowards.” Rose Lee had ordered her husband’s casket to be open in
order to refute the sheriff’s claim that he had died in an “automobile
accident.” Foreshadowing the photographs that would define the Till
case, pictures in Jet and various black newspapers showed Lee’s left
jaw all but blasted away and the hundreds and hundreds of
mourners.43 After the funeral NAACP members went back to Belzoni
to hold voter registration classes.44

On May 22 the NAACP sponsored a memorial rally that packed
the Elks’ Rest in Belzoni with a crowd estimated at more than a
thousand. Wilkins came from New York to speak for the national
organization, and Howard told the audience, “There are still some
Negroes left in Mississippi who would sell their grandmamas for half
a dollar, but Rev. Lee was not one of them.” McCoy challenged the
local lawmen who had watched them file into the hall: “Sheriff
Shelton is sitting outside that door right now, he and his boys. Come
back from his fishing just so he could watch this meeting. I say he
might better be investigating the murder of the Rev. Lee than watching
this meeting or taking his little tin bucket with some bait in it and
going fishing. The sheriff says that the Rev. Lee’s death is one of the

most puzzling cases he’s ever come across. The only puzzling thing
about it is why the sheriff doesn’t arrest the men who did it.”45

Except, of course, that it wasn’t the least bit puzzling.
Had District Attorney Sanders prosecuted Joe David Watson Sr. for

shooting into the home of a black sharecropper, George Lee might not
have been killed. By failing to act, Sanders practically green-lighted the
murder, which he also declined to prosecute. The message to the
community was clear: anyone pushing for black voting rights could be
killed with impunity. According to a 1956 FBI memo, Sanders
acknowledged that the bureau’s investigation of the case “conclusively
demonstrates that criminal action was responsible for Lee’s death,”
but he maintained that the identity of the assailants was not
“sufficiently established by usable evidence to warrant presentation to
the grand jury.” To proceed was pointless, he told FBI agents, because
a Humphreys County grand jury “probably would not bring an
indictment, even if given positive evidence.” Besides, race relations in
Belzoni had settled down after the murder, and to reopen the case
would only stir things up. The Justice Department declined to file civil
rights charges, claiming that there was insufficient evidence that the
murder bore any relation to voting rights. FBI agents returned to
Watson his .20-gauge and shells.46

•  •  •

The morning after Lee’s murder was Sunday, Mother’s Day, but Gus
Courts’s grocery store was open. After losing his closest friend, it must
have felt like a kick in the stomach to see Percy Ford of the Belzoni
Citizens’ Council leaning over the counter.

“They got your partner last night,” Ford reportedly said.
“Yes, you did,” Courts replied accusingly.
“If you don’t go down and get your name off the register, you are

going to be next. There is nothing to be done about Lee because you
can’t prove who did it.” Ford then spoke even more bluntly: “Courts,
they are going to get rid of you. I don’t know how and I don’t want to
know how.”

The sixty-five-year-old grocer told Ford that he would as soon die a
free man as live a coward. In any case, Courts said, he did not intend
to take his name off the books. It had taken too much effort to get it
there in the first place.

The Citizens’ Council was as good as its word. Courts’s landlord
soon raised his rent so high he was forced to move his store. Planters
refused to hire any of the day laborers he hauled in at harvest time
with his bus and truck service. Two wholesale grocers canceled his
credit. Courts paid cash for two weeks, after which the wholesalers
refused to sell him any more merchandise. He had to drive the hour
and a half to Jackson himself to buy provisions.47

In Humphreys County the Council gave lists of registered African
Americans to local white businesses. If an employer or prospective
employer found a black person’s name on the list, Evers explained,
“he’d say, ‘we can’t employ you until you get your name off this list.’ ”
With this method they knocked registration down to about ninety
names, and against this harder core of black voters the Council
brought other types of pressure. Evers observed that Sunflower
County had lost all 114 black voters due to these methods, and
Montgomery County lost all 26. Asked if those numbers represented
the goals of the Citizens’ Council, Robert Patterson claimed, “We
aren’t against anyone voting who is qualified under our new
registration law.”48

By the first day of August, the day before the 1955 Democratic
primary, only twenty-two African American voters remained on the
books in Humphreys County, most of them terrified. “I was notified
that very next morning that the first Negro who put his foot on the
courthouse lawn would be killed,” Courts recounted. Nearly all of the
black voters still on the books met in Courts’s store later that day to
talk over what they should do. “I told them that we would go down
to vote, if they were willing to go. They said they were, and we went
down to vote.”

Courts continued, “After we had gotten to the registrar’s office, we
were handed a sheet of paper which contained 10 questions. They told
us we could not have the ballots until we had answered the
questions.” The first question asked if they were members of the

Democratic Party. “The next question was, ‘Do you want your
children to go to school with the white children?’ The next question
was, ‘Are you a member or do you support the NAACP?’ ” The
registrar refused to accept any of their votes. Not one black ballot was
counted in Humphreys County in 1955.49

Subsequently Courts and four of his comrades wrote and sent a
petition to Governor Hugh White asserting that their voting rights
were being denied and their lives threatened and asking for protection
of both their ballots and their bodies. They sent a copy to the U.S.
Department of Justice. The response was chilling. “Now, the
Governor sent that petition back to Belzoni to the White Citizens’
Council,” Courts explained. Percy Ford showed the original petition
to all five signatories, one by one. “You signed this petition and sent it
to the governor,” Courts remembered Ford telling him. “Now you see
how much protection you have gotten from the Governor.”50

As the coercion increased, Courts scrawled a note to Evers: “I am
reporting a few the Citizen Council putting the preasher on. Mr. V. G.
Hargrove, T chula, Misss. Farmer. Mr. Neely Jackson T cula Miss.
farmer. Mr. Fread Myls Belzoni Miss. merchen, Mr. Will None,
planter, Belzoni, Miss., Mr. Willie A Harris, Taxie Cab oner Belzoni
Miss. Mr. Gus Couters Belzoni merchen and a lot of others I dount
have thire names. All these men have ben ask to get out of the
NAACP. And to return thire poll tax or tare up receat. Your truley
Gus Courts, 61 First St. Belzoni Miss.”51 Evers filed the letter along
with several similar reports. Citizens’ Council members persisted in
warning Courts to get out of Belzoni or face the consequences.

About eight o’clock on Friday night, November 25, 1955, a forty-
two-year-old black woman named Savannah Luton entered Courts’s
grocery store on First Street in Belzoni. “I was busy waiting on
customers in my store,” Courts recalled. He greeted Luton from
behind the old drink box and cash register. “I was buying a dime’s
worth of coal oil and I heard this noise that sounded like firecrackers,”
she said later. “I bent down to look out the window and told Mr.
Courts, ‘There’s some white folks out here shooting at us.’ He didn’t
even know he was shot until then.”

The shotgun had been loaded with unconventionally large
buckshot, and two quick blasts splattered the upper edge of the bed of
Courts’s pickup truck and sprayed irregular holes across the store’s
plate glass window. When Courts touched his side his hand came
away covered with blood; the slugs had caught him in his left arm and
stomach. Unharmed, Luton rushed out the front door just in time to
see a two-toned automobile spraying dust and gravel as it raced away
toward downtown Belzoni. There was a white man at the wheel and
other people in the car whom Luton couldn’t make out. Running back
into the store, she found Courts fallen. He had one hand pressed up
against the wound to his side and the other to the wound in his arm.
Blood seeped through his fingers and dripped onto the wood floor.52

Friends and family rushed Courts to the hospital—not the local
hospital nearby but the Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou. “When I
walked out to get into the car, I told my friend, Ernest White, who
came to take me to the hospital, that I wanted to go to Mound Bayou
hospital, which is 80 miles away. The sheriff came over in 30 minutes
to my store, after I had left for the hospital. He asked my wife where I
was. He said he had been over to the hospital, just two blocks away,
for 30 minutes waiting for me.” When his wife said he’d gone to
Mound Bayou, the officer was not pleased. “I believe they would have
finished me off if I had landed up in the Belzoni hospital,” said
Courts.53 Sheriff Shelton complained: “They took Courts across two
counties, to 80 miles north of here, though we have the best hospital
in the world and two of the best doctors.”

“I’ve known for a long time it was coming and I tried to get
prepared in my mind for it,” Courts said, “but that’s a hard thing to
do. It’s bad when you know you might get shot just walking around in
your store.” Although it was more than a year before Courts had full
use of his arm again, he recovered from the buckshot. Other wounds
proved harder to heal. No one was ever charged in the case. The New
York Times ran one tiny story about the murder of Reverend Lee, but
no national press reported on what happened to Courts or on the
wave of intimidation against black voters all over the state. U.S.
Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. insisted that under federal law
the Justice Department had no authority to prosecute, even though the

courts had long since found that the Fourteenth Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution created a national citizenship and so empowered the
federal government to protect the right of all citizens to vote.54

Like Lee and Courts, a sixty-three-year-old African American
cotton farmer named Lamar Smith decided that he would risk
everything to help bring the vote to black Mississippians. About two
weeks before Milam and Bryant drove to Reverend Wright’s
farmhouse to take Emmett Till, Smith went to the courthouse in
Brookhaven, Mississippi, to obtain more of the absentee ballots he
was distributing to African Americans so that they could vote without
being intimidated or attacked.55 It was ten o’clock on Saturday
morning and the square was filled with people. At least three white
men set upon the unarmed Smith as he crossed the courthouse lawn
and beat him mercilessly. Then at least two of them held him while
another fired a .38 revolver into his heart and, by one account, fired a
second shot into his mouth. Dozens of people stood nearby. The
sheriff was close enough to recognize at least one of the killers and to
describe the bloodstains on the shirt of another. The FBI investigation
stated flatly that his assailants killed Smith “in front of the sheriff.”56

Arrington High’s Eagle Eye newspaper claimed that the dozens of
witnesses to the murder were “ordered to shut up their mouths.” He
angrily demanded, “Was this man murdered by elected officials?”57

The front page of the Jackson Advocate, a conservative black
newspaper, declared that Smith’s murder was “generally regarded as
resulting from sentiment created against Negro leaders in the state by
the White Citizens’ Councils.”58 Even Brookhaven’s own Judge Tom
Brady acknowledged that there had been no trial in the Smith killing
because no white man was willing to testify against another in the
murder of a black man.59

Not all whites remained silent, however. When the sheriff would
not make an arrest, despite personally witnessing the murder, District
Attorney E. C. Barlow tried unsuccessfully to persuade the governor
to send highway patrol officers to investigate, calling the murder
“politically inspired.” The chairman of the all-white local grand jury
complained bitterly in a lengthy statement to the newspapers, “Most
assuredly somebody has done a good job of trying to cover up the

evidence in this case, and trying to prevent the parties guilty, therefore,
from being brought to justice.” Even though “there were quite a
number of people alleged to have been standing around and near said
killing, yet this Grand Jury has been unable to get the evidence,
although it was generally known or alleged to be known who the
parties were in the shooting.” Claiming to speak on behalf of the
whole grand jury, the chairman raged, “We think it impossible for
people to be within 20 or 30 feet of a difficulty in which one party is
shot, lost his life in broad, open daylight, and nobody knows nothing
about it or knows who did it.”60

Despite the openly political nature of the Mississippi attacks, the
national news media soft-pedaled the murders of George Lee and
Lamar Smith and said little about the attempted murder of Gus
Courts. So it’s easy to understand why the murderers and those who
sympathized with them would think that the country didn’t care about
the rights or even the lives of African Americans in Mississippi. And it
is no surprise that J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant would assume they
could murder Emmett Till without real consequences.

After Courts was released from the hospital in Mound Bayou, his
wife and Evers persuaded him to relocate his family to Chicago, where
the NAACP set him up in a small grocery business on the South
Side.61 Gunmen sprayed the Jackson home of A. H. McCoy with
bullets. Dr. C. C. Battle, who had performed the autopsy on George
Lee, fled for Kansas City. Dr. Howard sold his home and nearly eight
hundred acres and moved, first to California and then to Chicago,
where he opened a medical practice and went into politics. They all
felt sure they would be killed if they stayed in Mississippi.62 Amzie
Moore wrote to a Chicago friend in late 1955, “It’s ruff down here
and a man’s life isn’t worth a penny with a hole in it. I shall try to stay
here as long as I can but I might have to run away up there. Look for
me right after the first of the year.”63 Moore managed to stay, but his
house became a virtual arsenal and was lit up like Christmas every
night of the year.64

Courts never returned to Belzoni. “You see before you an American
refugee from Mississippi terror,” he testified two years later before the
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. “We had to flee in the night.

We are the American refugees from the terror in the South, all because
we want to vote.”65

Rumor had it that friends had smuggled him out of town in a



On the Sunday afternoon before the trial of Roy Bryant and J. W.

Milam began, C. Sidney Carlton, one of the five attorneys defending
them, visited the chief witness for the prosecution. Carlton, a round-
faced, bespectacled man well into middle age, would soon become the
president of the Mississippi Bar Association.1 The kindest term for
what he was about to do is witness tampering. He knocked at the
door of the unpainted tenant farmhouse where Reverend Wright lived,
the same door that Milam and Bryant had pounded on when they
came to snatch the black boy from Chicago. Carlton had come to
warn Wright about testifying against his clients.2

Like much about the trial of Emmett Till’s murderers, there was a
performance quality to Carlton’s visit. His warning was superfluous.
After meeting the heavily armed minister at his home, Moses
Newsome of the Memphis Tri-State Defender wrote, “[Moses Wright]
seems certain he can handle any situation that comes up while he is
awake. Each time that cars slowed down in front of the house, he kept
telling this reporter, ‘Don’t worry. It is all right here.’ ”3 Wright
avoided sleeping at his house, however, as he waited for his chance to
testify in court; instead he slept in his car in a rural cemetery or
another secret location. “I spend some nights here and some nights I
don’t,” he told reporters. “I’m superstitious.” Every day, as he and his
sons picked his twenty-five–acre cotton crop, his shotgun was nearby.
He also kept a rifle close at hand. The boys were living with relatives.4

Wright knew to a certainty who had abducted his nephew, tortured
and butchered him. He knew how remarkable it was that there would
even be a trial and knew to a near certainty that the murderers would
be found not guilty by a jury of white men. He knew that African
Americans had been killed by whites for centuries without real
consequence. There was no reason to imagine that this time would be
any different. But like George Lee, like Gus Courts, like countless
other African Americans pasting bumper stickers to their cars,
attending rallies, signing their names on school integration petitions,
and attempting to register and vote, he chose courage. That was why
he stayed in the Delta. “There was not a trace of fear about [Wright]
as he asked his visitors to enter,” a reporter visiting the reverend’s
home wrote later. “There was even a little defiance when Carlton
suggested that things might not go well with Moses Wright if he
fingered Milam and Bryant.”5

Wright had to wait only three weeks. The trial began on Monday,
September 19, a mere twenty days after the sheriff’s deputies fished
Emmett’s bloated body from the Tallahatchie River. This left little time
for a proper investigation, which was the point. Sheriff Strider of
Tallahatchie County, who had successfully claimed jurisdiction and so
was responsible for that investigation, had in fact urged the judge to
begin the trial only a week after they found the body even though he
had not found any evidence or witnesses.6 “We haven’t been able to
find a weapon or anything,” he told reporters. Nor did the state have
any credible notion of where the murder had taken place.7 This lack
of information would cast a lingering shadow over the question of
Strider’s jurisdiction, since the kidnapping clearly occurred in Leflore

In fact, it was Leflore’s Sheriff George Smith who had arrested
Milam and Bryant. Had he been given jurisdiction, the effect on the
trial might have been different. No less a pillar of Mississippi civil
rights politics than Dr. T. R. M. Howard called Sheriff Smith “the
most courageous and the fairest sheriff in the entire state of
Mississippi.” Ruby Hurley of the NAACP’s southeastern regional
office also sang Smith’s praises.8 But Strider made his claim based on
the discovery of the body about ten miles into his county. He also

claimed that he had found some blood on a bridge that indicated
where the body had been dumped. The FBI lab soon determined that
it was not human blood, but that did not matter; Strider got
jurisdiction anyway.

And Strider was determined to maintain control of the proceedings.
Another reason for the hasty trial was that Strider’s four-year term
ended in three months’ time; postponement until the next session of
court would allow Strider’s successor to take over the leading law
enforcement role.9

Henry Clarence “H.C.” Strider was a tobacco-chewing, cigar-
smoking former football player with a bad heart and a gruff
demeanor.10 The owner of 1,500 acres of prime cotton land, Strider
farmed his plantation with 35 black sharecropping families and kept a
general store and filling station on the property. He also operated a
crop-dusting company with three airplanes.11 Seven tenant houses
lined the driveway to his home and each had one huge letter on its
roof, visible from the highway or one of his planes: S-T-R-I-D-E-R.12

“He was like a godfather over the Delta,” Carolyn Bryant recalled.
“All of the other sheriffs and police departments and all, whatever
Strider said, that’s what they did.”13 Elected in 1951, he was “as
tough a sheriff that’s ever been around here,” recalled Crosby Smith,
Emmett Till’s uncle. “He weighed about three hundred pounds and he
walked heavy.”14 If he carried a gun in the courthouse during the trial
it was not visible, but an oversized blackjack protruded prominently
out of the right front pocket of his trousers.15

Sheriff Strider ruled at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, a badly
aging three-story brick castle erected in 1915 in Sumner.16 Built
around the courthouse square half a mile from the highway, Sumner,
one of two county seats in Tallahatchie, had a population of nearly six
hundred, more than two-thirds of them black and not one registered
to vote. Strider kept security for the trial tight. “Deputies wearing gun
belts ambled in and out, as if it were the set of a TV western, and
frisked everyone who entered the courtroom,” wrote Dan Wakefield
for the Nation.17 “I have received over 150 threatening letters and I
don’t intend to be shot,” Strider announced to the press. “If there is
any shooting, we would rather be doing it.”18

•  •  •

To judge from the initial press coverage, much of white Mississippi
shared Chicago’s outrage at Till’s murder. On September 1, the day
after his body was found, the Clarksdale Press Register called it “a
savage and useless crime” and stated flatly, “If conviction with the
maximum penalty of the law cannot be secured in this heinous crime,
then Mississippi may as well burn all its law books and close its
courts.” The Greenwood Commonwealth ran a front-page editorial
asserting, “Citizens of this area are determined that the guilty parties
shall be punished to the full extent of the law.” The Vicksburg Post
called it a “ghastly and unprovoked murder” and urged “swift and
determined prosecution.” Governor White dispatched telegrams to
District Attorney Gerald Chatham urging energetic prosecution of the
case and to the national office of the NAACP promising that the
Mississippi courts “will do their duty.”19

T. R. M. Howard, the civil rights leader and surgeon from Mound
Bayou, was on a business trip to Chicago when he heard that Till’s
body had turned up in the Tallahatchie. “There will be hell to pay in
Mississippi,” he told reporters.20 Mamie Bradley also fired on the
Magnolia State, vowing, “Mississippi is going to pay for this.”21

Much to the chagrin of most white Mississippians, Mamie called what
had happened to her son “an everyday occurrence” there, and said
visiting Mississippi was “like walking into a den of snakes.”22 In New
York, Roy Wilkins made an even more vehement condemnation,
which appeared in newspapers across the nation and on the front page
of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “It would appear by this lynching that
the State of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by
murdering children,” he said. “The killers of the boy felt free to lynch
him because there is in the entire state no restraining influence of
decency, not in the state capital, among the daily newspapers, the
clergy nor any segment of the so-called better citizens.”23

These statements would linger in the minds of white Mississippians.
Their outrage at the Till murder dissipated as they began to smart at
all the criticism directed at their state, and by implication at them.
Within days a full-scale backlash began to roll. White Mississippians

resented the sweeping condemnations of their state in the Northern
press and particularly the excoriating denunciations by Wilkins and
other civil rights leaders. Many Mississippi editors began to fire back
indiscriminately.24 The editor of the Picayune Item snarled that a
“prejudiced communistic inspired NAACP” could not “blacken the
name of the great sovereign state of Mississippi, regardless of their
claims of Negro Haters, lynching, or whatever.”25

Some used the searing national criticism of Mississippi to explain
the performance of justice unfolding in the courtroom: the state’s
critics, they argued, had swelled Strider’s sympathy for Roy and
Milam. But prosecutor Hamilton Caldwell countered that Strider
“was for the boys all along.” Carolyn Bryant later noted that well
before the murder the Milams and Bryants believed that their
association with Strider made them immune to prosecution. As early
as September 3, only three days after Till’s body was found, Strider
told reporters he did not believe the body was Till’s: “The body we
took from the river looked more like that of a grown man instead of a
young boy. It was also more decomposed than it should have been
after that short a stay in the water.”26 This contrasted sharply from his
assessment of the body’s condition right after they pulled it from the
river, when he said it looked like it had been there only two days. This
shift had a political purpose, of course; if it had been in the water for
more than a few days, the body could not have been Emmett Till’s.
The following day Strider told reporters, “The whole thing looks like
a deal made up by the NAACP.”27 Sheriff George Smith of Leflore
County quickly and publicly disagreed. His deputy, John Ed Cothran,
could not keep silent, either, and stated emphatically that he’d been
present when Moses Wright identified the body by the silver ring
engraved with Till’s father’s initials.28

But in the Tallahatchie County Courthouse their dissents amounted
to little. Strider soon elaborated on his theory to reporters from the
Greenwood Morning Star: “It just seems to me that the evidence is
getting slimmer and slimmer. I’m chasing down some evidence now
that the killing might have been planned and plotted by the
NAACP.”29 Hodding Carter Jr., the editor of the Delta Democrat-
Times, wondered, “Whoever heard of a sheriff offering on the

flimsiest construction of fact, the perfect piece of evidence for the
defense? Without a corpus delicti, there can be no murder conviction
—of anyone.” Carter pointed out the irony that the same man who
now denied that the body was Till’s had claimed jurisdiction over the
case on the basis of some blood he said he had found on a bridge.30

Of course Strider wasn’t brazen in a vacuum. The tide of public
opinion seemed to run ever more in his favor. Governor White wrote
to a colleague, “I’m afraid the public has become so aroused over the
NAACP agitation that it will be impossible to convict these men.”31

Though editors and politicians like White blamed the turn on the
NAACP and Northern critics, the fuming of Mississippi editors
pushed public opinion considerably. Nevertheless, to the genuine
surprise of many observers, a grand jury issued indictments against
Milam and Bryant for murder on September 7.32

•  •  •

The man running the murder trial inside Strider’s citadel would draw
high marks from the press corps. James Hicks of the National Negro
Press Association and the Afro-American News Service, who came to
the trial a self-described “skeptic of Mississippi’s white man’s justice,”
wrote afterward that no judge “could have been more painstakingly
and eminently fair in the conduct of the trial than Judge Curtis M.
Swango of Sardis, Mississippi.”33 Greenville’s Delta Democrat-Times
averred, “[Swango] is providing the South with the best public
relations it has had since the invention of the Southern Accent first
enchanted Northern ears.”34 Murray Kempton of the New York Post,
immune to any charming drawl of Southern-fried public relations,
called Judge Swango “a quiet man firmly and graciously committed to
a fair trial whatever the verdict.”35 Even the rabidly segregationist
Jackson Daily News agreed that the jurist was “to be warmly
commended for his scrupulously correct conduct in the face of what
must be a difficult situation.” That paper also called his selection
“good casting”: “[He] looks like Hollywood’s idea of what a judge
should look like.”36

Though he banned broadcasts, photography, and recording during
testimony, Judge Swango delighted journalists by permitting them to
shoot pictures during the fifteen minutes before trial and during
intermissions. He also permitted smoking in the courtroom and made
a gesture toward comfort by suggesting that the men remove their
jackets in the sweltering heat.37 He sipped a cold Coca-Cola during
jury selection and let participants and spectators do likewise. Others
drank beer without reprimand.38 On the first day of the trial one of
the courthouse custodians walked in with a wooden crate full of glass
bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola and quickly sold each one for a dollar,
though at that time soft drinks cost a nickel. When the crate was
empty he sold that, too, for a dollar, as a makeshift chair.39 Yet
nobody described Judge Swango’s courtroom as lax. “The dignified
magistrate has an authoritative voice and a husky gavel and doesn’t
hesitate to use it,” wrote Harry Marsh, a Southern liberal with the
Delta Democrat-Times. “But most of all he has displayed great
patience and fairness in the two days required to select a jury in the
hot, crowded courtroom.”40

The photographers and reporters, especially the African American
contingent, appreciated Swango’s letting them roam the courtroom
before the proceedings and during breaks. One of them, Ernest
Withers, snapping pictures for the Memphis Tri-State Defender, would
become a famed civil rights photographer and seemed at ease even in
the tense atmosphere. One day a white man in the crowd suddenly
jumped up and demanded, “Nigger, don’t take my picture.” Withers,
who was born in Memphis and had worked as one of the city’s first
black police officers, shrugged. “Don’t worry,” he deadpanned, “I’m
only taking important people today.” James Hicks, a Northerner,
taking nervous drags on a cigarette at the card table set aside for
African American reporters, muttered to Withers, “Man, you’ll get us
lynched down here.”41

The spectators in shirtsleeves, the sweating bottles of Coca-Cola,
the roaming interracial pool of reporters, the judge’s demeanor—none
of these influenced the substance of the murder trial of Roy Bryant
and J. W. Milam. On Monday, September 19, the first day of the trial,
selection of ten of the twelve needed jurors began promptly at nine

o’clock. Sheriff Strider and Sheriff-elect Harry Dogan, who between
them knew virtually everyone in the county, helped the defense
lawyers vet the 125 potential jurors. That it would be an all-white jury
went without saying. “No Negroes will serve on the jury,” explained
the Jackson Daily News. “Women do not serve on Mississippi juries,

The prosecution dismissed three juror prospects for admitting to
having contributed money to the defense fund, which reportedly
collected $6,000 in the Delta.43 Other common causes for dismissal
included being related to the defendants or one of the attorneys in the
case, knowing the defendants, living near where the murder
presumably occurred, or holding “fixed opinions” on the case.44 The
prosecution eliminated only one prospective juror, a cotton farmer, for
reasons associated with racial prejudice; he did not admit to such
prejudice but appeared unable to understand the question or reluctant
to respond.45 Another man, asked whether he had a “fixed opinion”
about the crime, replied, “Anybody in his right mind would have a
fixed opinion.”46

On Tuesday morning, the crowded courtroom watched attentively
as the defense and prosecution set out to select the two more jurors
necessary to proceed with the trial. They did not complete the process
until almost eleven o’clock; the court had to call nine more
prospective jurors in order to confirm the last two. The prosecution
rejected six for having contributed to the defense fund of Milam and
Bryant and used one of its peremptory challenges to block another. In
the end nine cotton farmers, two carpenters, and an insurance
salesman were selected: all men, all white.47 The Greenwood Morning
Star described the local men as “a jury mostly composed of open-
collared, sunburned farmers,” although the Memphis Commercial
Appeal noted that one juror wore a necktie that first day.48 Judge
Swango selected J. A. Shaw, one of the nine farmers, to chair the jury.

The court sequestered Shaw and his compatriots at the Delta Inn, a
hotel about a hundred yards from the Sumner courthouse. They took
their meals in the hotel dining room and received $5 a day besides.
Barred from watching television, reading newspapers, or listening to
the radio, the members of the jury were also barred from discussing

the case with anyone. This did not dissuade local members of the
Citizens’ Council from calling on jurors individually to ensure they
voted “the right way.”49

After jury selection was complete, Murray Kempton of the New
York Post observed, “the defense was exuding its satisfaction and its
assurance of a two-day trial and a two-minute acquittal.”50 Any jury
drawn from Tallahatchie County would have presented a challenge for
the prosecution, but this one defied the prospect of a successful
outcome. Ten of the twelve hailed from the Mississippi hill country,
where race relations were especially harsh. The defense attorneys, in
no small measure assisted by Sheriff Strider and Sheriff-elect Dogan,
knew enough of the jurors personally to be confident of acquittal.
“After the jury had been selected,” said senior defense counsel
Breland, “any first-year law student could have won the case.”51

The one fixed opinion that everybody from Tallahatchie County
seemed to share was that the jury would find the accused not guilty.52

This did not detract from the high suspense and absorbing interest of
the courtroom drama. Perhaps as many as four hundred people
packed the place, and most watched the proceedings with rapt
attention, though two deputies played checkers in the jury room
throughout much of the trial.53 The white spectators were mostly
farmers. About forty African American observers occupied half a row
and often some of the wall space in the rear. Only about fifteen or so
of the spectators, black or white, were women.

Merely feeding and housing all the people attending the trial placed
a heavy strain on the meager local facilities. Sumner had no real
restaurant except a small hotel dining room on the courthouse square,
where the jury took their meals. By Monday afternoon a café owner
from Clarksdale, twenty-one miles away, had set up a concession
stand in the courthouse lobby and passed the word that he would be
selling half-chicken box lunches on Tuesday. Most of the white
journalists ate at a drugstore across the street that had never sold food
before but stocked supplies of sandwiches and soft drinks during the
trial. Coca-Cola prices doubled, even when all the cold ones were
gone and people sipped from tepid bottles until the refrigerators could
catch up. Three blocks away the jukebox blared from Griffin’s, where

the owner and her employees hawked food and drinks to African
American spectators and journalists.54 The conspicuous interracial
group from Louisiana took their lunch on the courthouse lawn.

Even more conspicuous was the sheer size of the press corps.
Sumner, a sleepy village of six hundred, was playing host to nearly a
hundred journalists and thirty photographers, most of them from
distant states and a few from other countries—New York, Chicago,
Memphis, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Toledo,
Washington, Ontario, London—and from all over Mississippi:
Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville, and Greenwood.55 Time, Newsweek,
Life, the Nation, Jet, Ebony, and several other magazines sent
reporters. Newspapers in Jakarta, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Paris,
Istanbul, Rome, and Stockholm, among others, showed keen interest.
Bill Stewart, who broadcast a radio program several times a day to
stations in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Ohio, said, “This is the biggest
thing we’ve ever done; we’ve got more phone calls from our listeners
thanking us for having a man on the scene than anything we’ve
done.”56 On the courthouse lawn, writes the historian Robert Caro,
there sprung up, “if not a forest, at least a small grove of tripods
supporting television cameras.” Three major television networks
chartered airplanes that set down in a field seven miles away to pick
up film every day and whisk it back to New York.57 National print
journalists wired in their stories; Western Union set up a special booth
in Sumner that sent nineteen thousand words on Monday, twenty-two
thousand on Tuesday, and far more on Wednesday, Thursday, and
Friday.58 Each time court recessed, radio journalists from Memphis,
New York, Detroit, Chicago, Hattiesburg, Jackson, and other cities
rushed to the few telephone booths to record their stories for
immediate broadcast.59

For reporters from London, New York, Chicago, Washington, and
even more distant places, Sumner, Mississippi, must have seemed a
foreign country.60 “You lie in bed at night listening to the hounds
baying,” Dan Wakefield reported, “and during the day you see more
men wearing guns than you ordinarily do outside your television
screen. I am not ashamed to confess that I was afraid.”61

•  •  •

Outside a thousand people besieged the courthouse square.62 African
Americans sat on the toasted grass beneath a Confederate statue
dedicated to “the Cause That Never Failed,” and whites gathered on
and around benches across the lawn.63 Observers noted a violent
tension in the crowd. “It was like watching a community you thought
you knew reveal itself as something else,” said Billy Pearson, a young
white man who had been away at the University of North Carolina
and come home to run the family farm. Pearson claimed to be
appalled by the threatening atmosphere. Sheriff Strider had hired a
number of youthful special deputies whom Pearson called “bully-
boys” with long sideburns and big pistols who enjoyed pushing people
around, he said, especially the black people.64

The deputies could not intimidate everyone outside the courthouse.
Frank Brown, a labor organizer from Chicago, spent a day there
mingling with other black men. Many carried guns, he recalled, and
none seemed cowed by the deputies. “Used to be they would charge us
with clubs and chase us off the grass,” one of the men told Brown,
“but they know we ain’t running no damn where this time.”65 On
Monday afternoon a young black man openly brandished an
automatic on the courthouse lawn but jumped into his car and drove
away before the deputies could question him and find out who he
was.66 Amzie Moore recounted, “The tension was so thick until, as
the blacks and whites mixed on the courthouse grounds, you just
looked for an explosion just any time.”67

One possible spark was an unlikely group of visitors from the
United Packinghouse Workers Association, a union with an
increasingly strong commitment to civil rights for all Americans; the
UPWA would become a vital part of the national civil rights coalition
that emerged in the wake of the Till lynching. The union had sent an
interracial delegation from Gramercy, Louisiana, a small town with a
union sugar refinery. It was in the grips of a strike and had recently
been the site of a women’s conference, which had adopted a resolution
denouncing the Till murder and calling for justice. “We are building a
new, free, unafraid South,” the resolution declared.68 The UPWA sent

two white field representatives, two white program coordinators, the
African American president of the Women’s Auxiliary, and three white
wives of striking workers. Sugar workers from rural Louisiana
certainly knew how bizarre it was for them to travel in a mixed group.
“The fact that Mrs. Lillian Pittman, a Negro, was in our company
caused us to have innumerable problems on our trip to Sumner by
auto,” one reported, without going into details. She also mentioned
the “shocked glares from the white populace” in Sumner.69

“We motored to Mississippi with Mr. Telfor,” Pittman reported.
“Afterward Marjorie Telfor, Grace Falgoust and Mrs. Vicknair and I
sat down to eat lunch under a tree in the shade. The three white ladies
and I were sitting down and along came a white photographer and
took our picture.” He assumed they were from Chicago, but they told
him, “ ‘No, we are from Louisiana.’ He couldn’t believe it because the
people in Mississippi don’t mix.” An older white man nearby
suggested that it would be better for the white women to stay away
from black people. “I asked the man did he own Mississippi,” said
Falgoust. “He couldn’t answer me.”70

At some point Pittman spoke to some African Americans hanging
around the courthouse about “political action.” They were speechless.
“Then some answered me, ‘Lady, do you want us to be killed and put
in the Tallahatchie River?’ They also said they were not allowed to
vote. To some of them that [the whites] let register, they said, ‘Politics
are for the whites.’ And ‘[Negroes], on the day to vote, you had better
not appear at the polls.’ ”71

For the first day and a half of the trial, the women of the Gramercy
UPWA could not get seats in the courtroom, Pittman reported: “But
we tried to make up for it by trying to get as much news as we could
out of the courtroom.”72 They interviewed townspeople, handed out
leaflets condemning the murder and calling for justice, and “issued
press releases to news reporters from all over the country.” According
to the UPWA delegates, “A great deal of attention has been given to
the presence in this tense situation of a friendly, interracial

In their exchanges with local whites, the women learned much.
Pittman overheard two excused jurors acknowledge to one another

that they had purposely given answers sure to get them off the jury
because they knew “that the defendants had killed the boy, and they
did not want to be party to the verdict of ‘not guilty,’ which they knew
would be expected.”74 As they interviewed local people, the women
discovered that none doubted the guilt of the accused, but all of them
added something like “The jury knows better than to do anything to

On their second day at the trial Pittman managed to get into the
courtroom, so the three white women left the grounds and walked
through Sumner, talking with whoever would talk to them. All the
white people they met were hostile to the prosecution. Several, wrote
Freida Vicknair, “insisted that the body sent to Chicago was not that
of Emmett Till.” Contradicting this assertion was the common
understanding that the accused were guilty: “No one protested the
innocence of Bryant and Milam. In fact, we were told that this crime
was justified.” The locals were certain of acquittal and believed that in
the unlikely event any jurors voted otherwise, they would pay for it
with their lives.76

Even stranger to the town of Sumner than the interracial UPWA
delegation was the group of black reporters patrolling the small town.
There was James Hicks of the Afro-American News Service and the
National Negro Press Association, who was pivotal not only in
covering the trial but in uncovering hidden witnesses, some of whom
testified to considerable effect. Simeon Booker and Clotye Murdock
were there for Ebony, along with their photographer, David Jackson.
L. Alex Wilson of the Memphis Tri-State Defender accompanied
photographer Ernest Withers, who created lasting images of the
notorious trial. The Chicago Defender probably slung more ink from
Sumner than any newspaper, black or white. Reporters William B.
Franklin and Steve Duncan and publisher Nannie Mitchell of the St.
Louis Argus attended. All the other major Midwestern black
newspapers—the Kansas City Star, the Cleveland Call and Post, and
the Michigan Chronicle—covered the trial.77 The very sight of white
and black reporters greeting one another and exchanging notes in a
friendly manner shocked the Sumner crowd. Therein was some of the
trial’s actual drama, for if almost everyone involved could predict the

trial’s verdict, few could predict its consequences. The New York Post
columnist Murray Kempton, for one, thought the locals’ reaction
revealed “more incredulity than menace.”78

This wasn’t true for the sheriff. Strider blamed all the national
hullabaloo on outsiders and seemed to focus on the black press as a
prime example. At the outset of each day he would walk, his
blackjack protruding from his front pocket, past the table where the
black press huddled and offer a cheerful “Good morning, niggers.”79

He interfered with their work whenever he could, reserving them only
the barest minimum space, and then only at the direction of Judge
Swango. “They allotted us chairs at the Jim Crow press table but
during the noon recess while we were trying to get our stories filed in
a Negro restaurant”—a pool hall, really—“the crowd would come in
and take chairs from our table. I stood up more often than I sat
down,” complained James Hicks. “We never have any trouble,”
Strider told television reporters during a break, “until some of our
Southern niggers go up North and the NAACP talks to them and they
come back here.”80

Meanwhile Moses Wright slept with a shotgun and harvested his
cotton crop, waiting for the chance to speak his truth.



Until he left Mississippi in late 1955, Dr. Theodore Roosevelt Mason

Howard felt sure that his name topped the Citizens’ Council “death
list” on which the names of his late friends George Lee and Lamar
Smith had once appeared. So he kept a .357 Magnum revolver on one
bedside table and a .45 semiautomatic on the other and a Thompson
submachine gun at the foot of his bed. A rifle or shotgun stood in all
four corners of the bedroom and in every other room in the house. His
large and well-appointed home and outbuildings would be more
properly called a compound; the driveway featured a guardhouse in
which armed men sat twenty-four hours a day. He was not a violent
man, but he intended to sleep in peace on his own property. That is
why, when an African American farm worker named Frank Young
showed up at the gate at midnight on the eve of the Till murder trial,
the guards were reluctant to wake Howard up. But Young insisted
that he had an important story to tell about Till’s murder and refused
to talk with anyone but Dr. Howard.

In the front room of Howard’s house Young told a harrowing story
that he had walked and hitched rides for eighty miles to tell: he had
witnessed and knew others who had witnessed events in the murder of
Emmett Till. Their accounts changed the narrative of the murder
significantly, including moving the crime from Tallahatchie to
Sunflower County and tying Bryant and Milam directly to the killing.

Early on that Sunday morning of August 28, said Young, three or
four black workers had seen a green and white Chevrolet pickup pull

onto the plantation in Sunflower County managed by Leslie Milam.
Four white men were in the cab of the truck, and in the back Emmett
Till sat between two African Americans, Levi “Two Tight” Collins
and Henry Lee Loggins, who both worked for J. W. Milam. The
pickup stopped in front of a small barn or equipment shed and the
group went in. Soon thereafter Young and the others heard the
unmistakable sounds of a vicious beating. When Young and another
witness snuck up closer to the shed they saw J.W. walk out and get a
drink of water from the well. Someone then drove the truck into the
shed, and the witnesses watched as it came back out with a tarpaulin
thrown over the bed. Emmett Till was no longer visible. All of these
witnesses were available to tell their stories, Young told Howard.

Howard had already given over his home as a safe house and
headquarters for witnesses, journalists, and crucial visitors like Mamie
Bradley and Representative Charles Diggs. He would bring Mamie
from Chicago at his own expense and escort her and other witnesses
to and from the Sumner courthouse in a well-armed caravan. Diggs
had been a guest at Howard’s farm on several occasions for the huge
annual gatherings of the RCNL, where he was a favorite speaker. But
Howard’s efforts extended beyond providing a safe haven: he had
been leading the “Mississippi underground” that undertook the most
effective investigation of the Till murder, helping to find, interview,
and eventually protect and relocate several key witnesses.1

On a tip, one member of the underground, the reporter James
Hicks, had gone to a joint called King’s in Glendora, the little
crossroads where J. W. Milam lived. “The place was filthy and the
cotton pickers who were enjoying their Sunday off crowded it to the
doors,” he wrote. Hicks drank beer, danced, and eventually unearthed
rumors that Sheriff Strider had locked away two men, Levi “Too
Tight” Collins and Henry Lee Loggins, in the Charleston jail to keep
them from testifying. Collins and Loggins might well be the two black
men Young had seen with Till in the back of the pickup.2 The rumors
would eventually be proven true; defense attorney Breland later
confirmed that Strider kept the two men in the jail under false
identities both before and for the duration of the trial.3

Also in the Mississippi underground were Ruby Hurley, Medgar
Evers, and Amzie Moore, who had been investigating the Till case for
some time. Myrlie Evers wrote later, “Medgar and Amzie Moore, an
NAACP leader from Cleveland, Mississippi, set off from our house
one morning with Ruby Hurley, down from Birmingham to
investigate. . . . All of them were dressed in overalls and beat-up shoes,
with Mrs. Hurley wearing a red bandana over her head. Moore had
borrowed a jalopy with license plates from a Delta county. Dressed as
day laborers, they made their way among sharecroppers’ cabins and
cotton fields, looking for people who might know something about
the murder.”4

After his midnight conversation with Young, Howard called some
of his colleagues to share the new evidence. Many of the black
reporters were already at the house, including Hicks, Simeon Booker,
and Robert M. Ratcliffe of the Pittsburgh Courier. Howard almost
certainly called Hurley, Evers, and Moore as well. All day and all
night that Monday, while the court selected a jury, Howard and his
crew looked for the witnesses who could confirm Young’s story and
Hicks’s suspicions. The four they found agreed to come to Howard’s
house the next evening to relate what they had seen. These evidential
gold mines promised not only to provide eyewitness testimony linking
the defendants to the murder but also to change the legal jurisdiction
from Tallahatchie to Sunflower County. Such a move probably
provided the best opportunity civil rights advocates had for disrupting
the script of acquittals already unfolding in Sumner.

At eight o’clock Monday evening some members of the Mississippi
underground conducted a strategy meeting in Mound Bayou to choose
a course of action. Aside from Howard, Hurley was present, as were
several African American reporters, including Hicks, Booker, and L.
Alex Wilson of the Chicago Defender. They agreed that white
reporters might fare better in dealing with local law enforcement
officials and decided to ask John Popham of the New York Times and
Clark Porteous of the Memphis Press-Scimitar to act in concert with
them. All the reporters would have to agree to hold off filing any
stories until after the Tuesday night meeting with the witnesses.5

What happened next was probably an unintentional blunder. When
Howard phoned Porteous to come to a meeting, he neglected to tell
him to bring only Popham and to tell no one else. Thus when Porteous
arrived that night, he not only failed to bring Popham, but he had
recruited W. C. Shoemaker and James Featherston of the Jackson (MS)
Daily News, the most reactionary segregationist newspaper in
Mississippi. What is more, rather than demur or equivocate, Howard
declared to the three reporters, “I can produce at least five witnesses at
the proper time who will testify that Till was not killed in Tallahatchie
County but killed in Sunflower County . . . in the headquarters shed of
the Clint Sheridan Plantation which is managed by Leslie Milam,
brother of J. W. Milam.”

It was, as Howard knew, a bombshell.6 But rather than hide the
witnesses in his compound and produce them at the trial at the
moment most damning for the defendants, he showed his cards in
advance and neglected to swear the reporters to secrecy. Only after
considerable wheedling and a promise that they would be the only
white reporters invited to the Tuesday evening meeting with the
witnesses did Porteous, Shoemaker, and Featherston promise to keep
mum for now.7

•  •  •

Tuesday’s courtroom drama began at a morning break, when Mamie
Bradley “walked quietly but purposefully through the center aisle of
the courtroom,” wrote Rob Hall of the Daily Worker, which was filled
with “relatives, friends and neighbors of Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam,
the two men charged with the murder of Emmett Louis Till, her
child.” Walking alongside her were two men she introduced to the
press as her father, Wiley Nash “John” Carthan of Detroit, and her
cousin Rayfield Mooty.8 Fifty or sixty reporters immediately
surrounded her, and photographers leaped over chairs and stood on
the black press table to get pictures of her. Sheriff Strider pushed his
270-pound frame through the crowd and handed her a subpoena to be
a witness, stating, “You are now in the state of Mississippi. You will
come under all rules of the state of Mississippi.”9 Judge Swango seated

her near the black press at the front of the courtroom and instructed
deputies to locate a larger table for that group. “She is a demure
woman whose attractiveness was set off by a small black hat with a
veil folded back, a black dress with a white collar,” Hall wrote. “In
the more than 99-degree heat of the courtroom, she fanned herself
with a black fan with a red design.”10

Arriving with Bradley in a heavily armed motorcade from Mound
Bayou was Charles Diggs, U.S. congressman from Michigan, whose
family was originally from Mississippi. It took him about an hour to
gain entrance, however. Diggs had written to Judge Swango and
received a reply inviting him to attend the trial.11 Even so, according
to Hicks, Sheriff Strider initially refused to grant Diggs admission to
the courthouse, so Diggs sat in his car with the armed guards and
asked Hicks to take the judge his business card. Strider told his
deputy, “This nigger here”—gesturing toward Hicks—“says there’s a
nigger outside who says he’s a Congressman, and he has corresponded
with the judge, and the judge told him to come on down and he would
let him in.”

The deputy replied, “This guy said a nigger Congressman?”
“That’s what this nigger said,” Strider responded and waved Hicks

into the courthouse. Hicks made his way inside and sent Diggs’s card
to the judge, who instructed the bailiff to make room for Diggs at the
newly enlarged black press table.12

“Local people were obviously surprised when white newsmen
shook hands with Rep. Diggs and addressed him as ‘Mr.
Congressman,’ ” wrote Rob Hall.13 A reporter for the Jackson Daily
News opined, “Diggs has about as much business being at the trial as
he has being in Congress” and added that his presence “indicates the
political ore to be mined from this judicial molehill by cynical vote-

•  •  •

It took the court well over an hour to select the two remaining jurors.
After the mid-morning break, the jury was seated and District
Attorney Chatham took the floor to begin his case. First he summoned

these witnesses: Deputy Sheriff John Ed Cothran of Leflore County;
Dr. L. B. Otken, who examined the body; C. M. Nelson, the
undertaker who dispatched the body to Chicago; Deputy Sheriff
Garland Melton of Tallahatchie County, who was present when the
corpse was taken from the river; Chester Miller, the African American
undertaker from Greenwood who initially took the body; Charles
Fred Mims, who helped retrieve the body from the water; W. E.
Hodges, a commercial fisherman, and his son Robert Hodges, the
seventeen-year-old who initially found the body; Moses Wright; and
Mamie Bradley. The defense called the same witnesses plus Roy
Bryant, J. W. Milam, Carolyn Bryant, Juanita Milam, Eula Lee Bryant,
and Sheriff H. C. Strider. Judge Swango called an early lunch recess at

The new jury dined on barbecued pork chops at the Delta Inn,
while Milam and Bryant enjoyed the air-conditioning at a lunch spot
in Webb with Strider. Mamie, Representative Diggs, and the black
press assembled at James Griffin’s Place, a black joint on Front Street.
During the break, defense attorney Sidney Carlton gathered reporters
around him and began to paint Till as a menace to white womanhood
who brought his fate upon himself. Till entered the store,
“propositioned” Carolyn Bryant, and assaulted her, Carlton said. He
“mauled her and he tussled her and he made indecent proposals to
her, and if that boy had any sense he’d have made the next train to
Chicago.” Meanwhile, reporter Clark Porteous, acting as an emissary
from T. R. M. Howard, approached the district attorney and gave him
a statement from Howard that revealed the existence of the new
witnesses and that their testimony would change the location of the
murder and tie Milam and Bryant directly to the crime.15

This news shocked Chatham and prosecutor Robert Smith. Right
after lunch, Chatham likewise shocked the court and caught the
defense off-guard. Due to a “startling development” in the
investigation, he asked for a recess in order to locate several new
witnesses. Chatham said that it might require the entire afternoon to
run them all down; though he did not say so, Dr. Howard had
arranged to meet with the witnesses and Chatham hoped it would not
take that long to assemble them, but managing black murder

witnesses in rural Mississippi, where their lives were in danger every
moment, could get complicated. Breland leaped to his feet and accused
the state of stalling. The trial should proceed at once, he insisted.
Judge Swango replied with cool courtesy that the state’s request
seemed perfectly reasonable to him.

The effort to gain more and better testimony for the prosecution
launched what Simeon Booker called “Mississippi’s first major
interracial manhunt” and Murray Kempton described as “hunting
through the cotton fields for four Negroes with a strange story to tell.”
It involved Booker, Howard, the sheriffs of Leflore and Sunflower
counties, Clark Porteous of the Memphis Press-Scimitar, W. C.
Shoemaker and Jim Featherston of the Jackson Daily News, James
Hicks of the National Negro Press Association, Clotye Murdock of
Ebony, David Jackson of Jet, L. Alex Wilson of the Chicago Defender,
Amzie Moore, Medgar Evers, and Ruby Hurley of the NAACP, and
perhaps a few others.16

Both sheriffs first drove to Leslie Milam’s place with Howard and
searched the floor of the barn for bloodstains. They found none, but it
was obvious that someone had cleaned the floor recently; it was newly
covered with corn and soybeans. Unfortunately the investigators did
not have the resources or the time to perform a more scientific

Sheriff Smith, who had been battling Sheriff Strider ever since Till’s
body was retrieved from the Tallahatchie River, acknowledged that he
had been looking for witnesses for several weeks and joined the hunt
with enthusiasm. “These witnesses have a story to tell,” he said.
“We’ve got to find them if it takes all night.”17 The teams agreed to
reconvene at eight for a meeting with the witnesses. None of the
expeditions went easily. Frank Young did not turn up until one in the
morning and refused to talk to anyone but Howard, who was not

Moore, Evers, and Hurley put on their farmhand disguises,
whisked up the black reporter Moses Newsome of the Memphis Tri-
State Defender, and combed the plantations and swamplands for
witnesses, finding three: Willie Reed, eighteen; his grandfather Add
Reed; and their neighbor Amanda Bradley, fifty. Their stories generally

confirmed the one Frank Young had told. After Howard promised to
protect them in the short term and afterward relocate them to
Chicago, all three agreed to testify.18

•  •  •

A number of things about the Till trial did not conform to the
stereotypes of Mississippi justice in 1955. Judge Swango’s fair-minded,
even-handed conduct from the bench ran counter to what most
observers expected. But perhaps nothing was quite so striking as the
workings of Howard’s Mississippi underground, a collection of
NAACP activists, black and white newspaper reporters, and law
enforcement officials who scoured the countryside for witnesses. For
Howard and the NAACP contingent, the struggle for justice was
motive enough. The reporters sought justice, too, perhaps, but also a
story. Judge Swango seems to have genuinely wanted a fair and
impartial trial, though it was perhaps more a question of honor than
outcome. As for the two sheriffs, they knew that these witnesses could
shift the trial from Strider’s jurisdiction to their respective
jurisdictions, but was a desire for justice their motive for joining the
search? They may have simply disliked Strider. Or perhaps they just
wanted to be able to face themselves in the mirror. Whatever their
reasons, this strange, seemingly fearless group swung into action and
found the only witnesses for the prosecution that could tie Milam and
Bryant to the scene of the crime.


“ T H E R E H E I S ”

The trial resumed at 9:20 on Wednesday morning. As Moses Wright

made his way toward the front of the sweltering courtroom, quiet fell
so that you could hear feet shuffling and the low whump, whump,
whump of the ceiling fan. It was the third day of the trial. The
authorities had brought in a hundred or so cane-bottom chairs in an
effort to keep people off the windowsills and away from the faded
lime-green walls. If it had been empty with a good breeze, the room
would have reached ninety degrees that day; stuffed sweatbox fashion,
the temperature likely reached a hundred or more. The Delta
Democrat-Times called the courtroom “an oven-hot, smoke-filled
room that was jammed to the walls with spectators.”1 The two four-
blade ceiling fans seemed only to stir the cigarette smoke. Such
oppressive heat discouraged movement other than the polyrhythmic
batting of several dozen handheld cardboard church fans of the sort
common in the South before air-conditioning.2

After two days of jury selection and delays, the short, wiry, dark-
skinned preacher was the first witness called. That was not the only
reason for the rapt attention in the room, however. Moses Wright was
a black man called to testify against two white men charged with
murder. In Mississippi that constituted an almost suicidal affront to
white supremacy. And he had been duly warned.

Neatly dressed in a white shirt, black pants, a thin, dark blue tie
with light blue stripes, and white suspenders, Wright settled into the
big wooden witness chair, the back of which reached nearly to the top

of his head. He tugged nervously at his thick, workingman’s fingers
that had been clearing fields of cotton. “I wasn’t exactly brave and I
wasn’t scared,” he said later. “I just wanted to see justice done.”3

District Attorney Chatham cast his first witness in the role of the
kindly old black retainer, calling him “Uncle Mose” and even “Old
Man Mose” throughout his testimony. Very likely Chatham was
playing to his jury, knowing undue respect shown a black man,
beyond a kindly paternalism, would only hurt his case. But Wright’s
presence and demeanor—he sat ramrod straight in the wooden chair
—commanded attention, and the DA’s questions soon cut to the heart
of the matter. “Now, Uncle Mose, after you and your family had gone
to bed that night, I want you to tell the jury if any person or if one or
more persons called at your home that night, and if they did what
time was it?”

“About two o’clock,” Wright answered. “Well, someone was at the
front door, and he was saying, ‘Preacher—Preacher.’ And then I said,
‘Who is it?’ And then he said, ‘This is Mr. Bryant. I want to talk to
you and that boy.’ ” When he opened the door, though he
acknowledged that he could see neither of the men all that well, he
recognized J. W. Milam.

The district attorney asked, “You know Mr. Milam, do you?”
“I sure do,” replied Wright.
“And what did you see when you opened the door?”
“Well, Mr. Milam was standing there at the door with a pistol in

his right hand and he had a flashlight in his left hand.”
“Now stop there a minute, Uncle Mose,” instructed Chatham. “I

want you to point out Mr. Milam if you see him here.”
Moses Wright stood up as tall as his five feet three inches would

take him, pointed “a knobby finger at J. W. Milam,” and said, “There
he is,” reported the Greenwood Commonwealth, a local white

The photographer Ernest Withers raised his camera and took a
picture of the cotton farmer in his crisp, clean shirt and neat, thin tie,
standing straight and pointing at Milam, who shifted nervously in his
chair, puffing a small cigar. One of the wire services bought Withers’s

roll of film on the spot and the photograph, carried by newspapers
around the world, became an iconic image of courage.5

“And do you see Mr. Bryant in here?” asked Chatham. Wright
pointed again.

“Uncle Mose,” Chatham continued, “do you see any man in this
courtroom now who was with Mr. Milam that night at your house?”

“Yes, sir.”
The defense interrupted with an objection, to no avail.
“And will you point that man out, Uncle Mose?” asked Chatham.
“It was Mr. Bryant,” said Wright, rotating slightly and pointing at

Milam’s brother-in-law again. Bryant betrayed no emotion, but Milam
again shifted nervously in his chair.6 Only somewhat obscured by the
passage of time, the significance of what had just occurred, arguably
as significant as anything that would transpire in the courtroom,
wasn’t lost on most of those watching the testimony. No doubt many
thought that Wright had pronounced his own death sentence by
identifying the two white men who had taken his nephew. He knew
the risks as well as anyone. Murray Kempton wrote that Wright then
“sat down hard against the chair-back with a lurch which told better
than anything else the cost in strength to him of the thing he had

The district attorney’s next questions carefully took Wright through
his account of the kidnapping, ending with his story of standing on
the porch for twenty minutes, watching the darkness into which the
boy his niece entrusted to his care had disappeared. “Now tell the
Court and Jury when was the next time after they took Emmett Till
away from your home that you saw him or his body,” Chatham finally

Wright replied, “I saw him when he was taken out of the river.”8

After Wright explained that he had identified his nephew’s body in
part by the silver ring on his finger, it was the defense counsel C.
Sidney Carlton’s turn to cross-examine. Carlton and Wright had
spoken three days earlier, of course, when Carlton, in an illegal
attempt to prevent the moment that had just come and gone, had
dropped by Wright’s tenant house to advise him that testifying against
Milam and Bryant would be very bad luck, to put it mildly. He tried a

less subtle approach in court. “Sidney Carlton roared at Moses Wright
as if he were the defendant,” Kempton wrote, “and every time Carlton
raised his voice like the lash of a whip, J. W. Milam would permit
himself a cold smile.”9

Carlton berated Wright as though the older man were changing the
facts of his story, which he wasn’t, and Wright calmly pointed out that
he had not said any such thing. The defense attorney tried to insinuate
that there had not been enough light in the cabin for Wright to
identify Milam or Bryant, that his identification of them was mere
speculation. He tried to fool Wright into testifying that Emmett Till’s
own initials were on the silver ring rather than his father’s. He tried to
suggest that since Wright had testified that he could not see the men
putting the boy into the car and had not been able to see Till in the car
as it pulled away, he could not prove that they had taken the boy. He
attempted to shake Wright’s confidence in his identification of his
nephew’s body by the river. Alternating between accusatory and
indignant theatrics, however, Carlton never tripped up Wright, who
stuck to answers like “That’s right” and “I didn’t say it” and “I sure
did.” When Carlton’s frustrated questions became repetitive, Judge
Swango sustained the prosecution’s objections, the defense lawyer
gave in, and the judge announced a twenty-five-minute recess.10

Moses Wright did not go into hiding for the rest of the trial. He did
not follow his wife and leave immediately for Chicago. Every day of
the trial he could be seen around the courthouse, wearing blue pants
and a crisp white shirt, his pink-banded hat tilted back on his head.
Wright seemed transfigured by his bravery on the witness stand. “He
walked through the Negro section of the lawn,” wrote Dan Wakefield
for the Nation, “with his hands in his pockets and his chin held up
with the air of a man who has done what there was to do and could
never be touched by doubt that he should have done anything less.”11

When court resumed, defense attorney Breland said, “If the Court
please, the Clerk has just handed Defense Counsel a list of additional
witnesses which the Clerk states he has subpoenaed both for the state
and defense. We now move the Court that the defendants’ counsel
have the opportunity of examining these witnesses in the witness room
before they are offered as witnesses by the state. The names of these

witnesses,” he continued, “are as follows: Amandy Bradley, Walter
Billingsley, [Add] Reed, Willie Reed, Frank Young, and C. A.
Strickland.” These were the local African Americans discovered by the
Mississippi underground, and the defense had no idea what they
might tell the court. The judge acceded to the request and let the state
call its next witness, Chester Miller, the African American undertaker
from Greenwood who had taken Till’s body from the riverside to his
funeral home.12

On August 31, Miller testified, Deputy Sheriff John Ed Cothran
called him to pick up a body in Tallahatchie County. He took one of
his helpers and found the body lying in a boat beside the river.
Tallahatchie County law enforcement officers suggested that Miller
remove a silver ring from the finger of the deceased for purposes of
identification. “I laid it on the floorboard of the ambulance,” he said.
Before he could load the body into the ambulance he had to detach
the barbed wire that lashed a heavy gin fan around the neck. “It was
well-wrapped,” he testified.

He had then asked Moses Wright to identify the body, which
Wright did. In the courtroom, Special Prosecutor Robert Smith asked
Miller, “In your opinion, was the body that was put in your
ambulance, was it possible for someone who had known the person
well in their lifetime to have identified that person?”

Before the defense could shout their objection, Miller replied, “Yes,
sir,” but Judge Swango sustained the objection and asked the jury to
disregard the answer.

Taking another tack, Smith asked Miller to describe the body.
“Well, it looked to be about five foot four or five inches in height,” the
undertaker said. “Weight between one hundred and fifty or sixty
pounds. And it looked to be that of a colored person.”

“Could you tell whether it was the body of a young person, or
middle age or an old person?” Smith inquired.

“It looked like it was the body of a young person.”
Miller told the prosecutor there was a hole in the head that “looked

like a bullet hole.” The defense again objected successfully, though
Miller managed to say on the record that it was a half-inch hole just
above the right ear. Smith asked about the other side of the head.

“Well,” said Miller, “it was crushed on the other side. You couldn’t
tell too much, it was crushed so. And it was all cut up and gashed
across the top there.”

“Would you state whether or not the wounds described here were
sufficient to cause his death?” Smith asked.

Defense attorney Breland broke in: “We object to that, Your
Honor. He is no expert to that. And the jury knows as much as he
does about that. I think that is within the province of the jury.”

“I am going to let the witness answer the question,” Swango

Smith asked the question again and Miller said, “Yes, sir.”
“I believe I asked you this, but I am not sure,” Smith continued.

“You testified that there was some barbed wire in the boat. But did I
ask you whether or not the barbed wire was on the person of the

“Yes, sir,” replied Miller. “Around the neck.”
For anyone striving to believe otherwise, it was growing harder and

harder to evade the conclusion that a murder had been committed.
But on cross-examination Breland went after the ghastly description of
the injuries to the body. “Now, what you saw about the condition of
that man as to his head, you couldn’t tell whether it was caused before
or after his death, could you?”

“No, sir,” said Miller.
“And you couldn’t tell whether it was caused in a car accident or

some otherwise, could you?”
Miller responded, “No, sir.”
The court then recessed for lunch.13

The defense was offering the jury a thin veil behind which they
could pretend to believe that the savage injuries might have occurred
in an unknown manner to an unknown person and that the body had
then been dumped in the river, recovered, and presented in a
gruesome, politically inspired hoax as the body of Emmett Till. It
remained to be seen whether the twelve jurors would take up that veil,
or even needed to.

After the lunch break Sheriff Strider stared at the black reporters
gathering their things for the afternoon session. Some of them had

been part of the Mississippi underground that had convinced the
additional witnesses to come forward. All of them would be reporting
the trial’s proceedings to the world. “Hello, niggers,” he said.14

Robert Hodges, the seventeen-year-old fisherman who found the
body snagged in the muddy water of the Tallahatchie, opened the
afternoon testimony, followed by B. L. Mims, whose motorboat had
pulled the body to shore. In each case the body began to appear more
and more indisputably that of a murder victim.15

Then Sheriff George Smith, at least an honorary member of that
Mississippi underground that had located the new witnesses, took the
stand and testified that he had found Roy Bryant sleeping at the store
in Money at about two that Sunday afternoon. He’d had a long talk
with Bryant in the front seat of the squad car. “I asked him why did he
go down there and get that little nigger boy, and he said that he went
down there and got him to let his wife see him to identify him, and
then he said that she said it wasn’t the right one, and then he said that
he turned him loose.”

Because Sheriff Smith’s testimony conveyed Bryant’s admission that
he had kidnapped Emmett Till the defense moved quickly to frame the
exchange as a private, confidential conversation between two old
friends that Bryant never understood was part of a murder
investigation. This was before the days of Miranda, the Supreme
Court decision, later familiar to all fans of crime dramas, that decrees
suspects of a crime be advised of their right to remain silent and that
everything they say can and will be used against them in a court of
law. Consequently all the defense could do was insinuate that the
interrogation was dishonest, that a uniformed officer interviewing a
friend without declaring the risks of admitting to kidnapping and
perhaps worse was an act of deceit to which a reasonable jury should
take affront.16

Next the prosecution called Deputy Sheriff John Ed Cothran of
Leflore County. Cothran had been present when the body came out of
the water. He had also been the one to arrest Milam and had talked
with him about what had happened to Emmett Till. “I asked him if
they went out there and got that boy,” Cothran testified. “I didn’t call
anyone by name. I just asked him if they had went out and got that

boy. And then he said, yes, they had got the boy and then turned him
loose at the store afterwards, Mr. Bryant’s store.”

Carlton quickly objected to this testimony and Swango sent the
jury out of the room. Carlton suggested that Cothran’s status as “a
good friend of that entire family” made it all the more imperative that
he should have informed Milam of the risks of his admission to
breaking the law. “And we have a further objection to this witness’s
testimony at this time on the grounds that there has been no showing
whatsoever in the record that the body taken from the Tallahatchie
River and alleged to be that of Emmett Till, that the death was caused
by any criminal agency whatsoever.” The judge overruled Carlton’s
objections and brought the jury back in.

District Attorney Chatham then asked Cothran, in the presence of
the jury, if he’d ever “had occasion to investigate the murder or
disappearance of Emmett Till” and had ever talked to J. W. Milam
about that. Cothran answered both questions in the affirmative and
added that he’d talked to Milam in the Leflore County Jail the day
he’d arrested him. Cothran assured the court that he had not promised
Milam anything nor threatened him in any way. “I asked him if they
went out there and got that little boy, and if they had done something
with him. And he said they had brought him up to that store and
turned him loose.” This second instance of the defendants’ admission
to kidnapping went without further comment.17

Under questioning by Chatham, Cothran described the scene at the
riverbank after he’d arrived to find the body in a boat on the shore.
Seeking to undermine the defense’s implication that there may have
been no murder, Chatham asked about the condition of the corpse.
“Well, his head was torn up pretty bad. And his left eye was about
out, it was all gouged out in there, you know,” Cothran answered.
“And right up in the top of his head, there was a hole knocked in the
front of it there. And then right over his right ear—well, I wouldn’t
say it was a bullet hole, but some of them said it was.”

Breland piped up from the defense table, “We object to what they
said it was,” and Judge Swango sustained the objection.

“There was a small hole in his head right above the ear,” Cothran
corrected himself, “over on the right side of his head, over here,”

gesturing toward the right side of his own head, “and that was all tore
up. There was a place knocked in his forehead.” On cross-
examination Carlton once again tried to suggest that Cothran’s
friendship with the accused invalidated his testimony and that the
damage to Till’s head could have occurred after the body was already
in the river. With that the court recessed until ten o’clock Thursday
morning. That thin veil the defense was offering the jury now required
them to ignore the fact that both defendants had admitted to
abducting the boy at two in the morning.18

After the session ended on Wednesday, members of the United
Packinghouse Workers of America delegation from Louisiana found
Moses Wright standing alone outside the courtroom. One of them,
Frank Brown, “asked the old man where he found the courage to
testify in the face of probable death. ‘Some things are worse than
death,’ Wright told Brown. ‘If a man lives, he must still live with
himself.’ ”19

•  •  •

On Thursday morning Emmett Till’s mother made her way through
the crowd and up to the witness stand. Mamie Bradley “was a
composed and well-spoken witness,” wrote John Popham of the New
York Times. “She wore a black dress with a white collar and a red
sash. She is a pretty brunette.” Murray Kempton noted that she “wore
a black bolero and a printed dress with a small black hat and a piece
of veil and she was very different from the cotton patch cropper who
is the ordinary Negro witness in a Mississippi courtroom.” A
columnist for the Greenwood Commonwealth wrote, “The
fashionably dressed 33-year-old negro woman had an air of
confidence and determination. . . . Her answers were direct and to the
point, using good English and speaking in a highly audible tone. At
only one point did she display any emotion. This occurred when she
was shown a photograph of the body. After looking at the picture,
Mamie sobbed, took off her glasses and wiped tears from her eyes.”
Throughout, the Greenwood paper attested, she appeared dignified,
intelligent, sympathetic, and respectable.20

Mamie put on her glasses as Special Prosecutor Robert Smith began
the examination. After establishing that Emmett’s father had been
killed in World War II, “in the European theater,” Smith asked about
the boy’s trip from Chicago, when Mamie had learned that he was
missing in Mississippi, and where she had first seen her boy’s body
when it returned from Chicago in a box. It was at the A. A. Rayner
Funeral Home in Chicago, she replied.

The first time I saw it, it was still in the casket. I saw it later on after it was removed
from the casket and placed on a slab. . . . I positively identified the body in the casket
and later on when it was on the slab as being that of my son, Emmett Till. . . . I looked
at the face very carefully. I looked at the ears, and the forehead, and the hairline, and
also the hair, and I looked at the nose and the lips and chin. I just looked at it all very
thoroughly. And I was able to find out that it was my boy. And I knew definitely that it
was my boy beyond a shadow of a doubt.

“I now hand you a ring, Mamie,” Smith intoned, “that has
engraved on it ‘May 25, 1943,’ with the initials ‘L.T.,’ and I ask you if
that was among the effects that were sent to you which were
purported to be the effects of your dead husband?”21 Smith called her
by her first name, as was customary when a white person addressed an
African American in 1950s Mississippi. By contrast, she always
referred to Smith as “Sir.” Knowing the ways of the South as she did,
Mamie Bradley accepted this disrespectful treatment with grace. But a
performance perhaps necessary for a white jury in Mississippi played
differently in the wider mid-twentieth-century world. The Washington
Afro-American’s headline, for instance, was “Mother Insulted on
Witness Stand.”22

“Yes, Sir,” she replied. “I kept the ring in a jewelry box but it was
much too large for the boy to wear. But since his twelfth birthday, he
has worn it occasionally with the aid of scotch tape or string.” He
wore it when he left home for Mississippi, she said. “And I remember
that I casually remarked to him, ‘Gee, you are getting to be quite a
grown man.’ ”

“And that was the ring he had when he came down to
Mississippi?” asked Smith.

“Yes, Sir.”

Finally Smith asked her to look at a police photograph of her son’s
body taken in the funeral home in Greenwood. “And I hand you that
picture and ask you if this is a picture of your son, Emmett Till?”23

Taking the photograph in her fingers, Mamie bowed her head and
wept, rocking slowly from side to side. Then, pulling off her glasses,
she wiped her eyes and replied, “Yes, Sir.”24

When defense attorney Breland cross-examined the witness he, too,
called her by her first name. “Mamie,” he asked, “where were you

“I was born in Webb, Mississippi.”
“That is a little town just two miles south of here, is that right?”
“I can’t tell you the location.”
“When did you leave Mississippi?”
“At the age of two.”
“Then you have just been told that you were born in Webb,

Mississippi? You don’t remember, is that right?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“When you can first remember, where were you living?”
“In Argo, Illinois.”
“How far from that is Chicago?”
“Approximately twelve miles.”25

With this new line of inquiry, the sons of Mississippi were no
longer on trial. Now it was Chicago, Chicago that sent its swaggering
black males south, Chicago that poured undue scorn hot and fast on
the Magnolia State, Chicago that encouraged Mamie Bradley to
declare that the entire state of Mississippi would have to answer for
this murder, Chicago that was on trial. Had not Mississippi suffered
enough at the hands of uppity northern blacks and obstreperous,
meddling Yankees? The trouble did not start down here, was the
defiant implication.

Was Emmett ever in trouble in Chicago? Breland wanted to know.
Mamie stated that he never had been, but that didn’t matter; the
question was intended to answer itself. For some percentage of the
people in that courthouse Emmett’s being a black boy from Chicago
answered the question, just as his winding up butchered and discarded
in a river was explained clearly enough to some percentage of the

country by the notion that a black boy had misstepped and thereby
had some responsibility for what had been done to him.

Breland then pivoted, training his questions to discredit Mamie
herself. “Did you have any life insurance on him?” She did. “How
much did you have?”

“About four hundred dollars straight life. I had a ten-cent policy
and a fifteen-cent policy, two weekly policies, and they equaled four
hundred dollars.”

“To whom were those policies made payable? Who was the
beneficiary in those policies?” Another fig leaf was being handed the

“I was the beneficiary on one and my Mother on the other,” Mamie

“Have you tried to collect on those policies?”
“I have been waiting to receive a death certificate.”
Suggesting that she was trying to capitalize on her tragedy was only

part of Breland’s intent. He was also implying that since she had not
tried to collect on the life insurance policy, since she had no death
certificate, perhaps there had been no death. Here Sheriff Strider’s
theory of the case, that it was a put-up job by the NAACP and the
corpse was not even Till’s, eased into view.

“Now, Mamie, what newspapers do you subscribe to in Chicago?
Do you read the Chicago Defender?”

Knowing the sympathies of the jury, the prosecution objected: “If
the Court please, I think it is perfectly obvious what he is trying to get
at. And I think counsel should be counseled not to ask any more
questions like that.”

“The objection is sustained,” Judge Swango pronounced. “Now,
will you gentlemen of the jury step back into the jury room a moment,
please?” The twelve Mississippians filed through the door behind the
witness stand and closed it behind them.

In the absence of the jury Breland questioned Mamie about her
subscription to the Chicago Defender, which she read every week.
“These papers are edited by colored people, is that right?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Breland held up a copy of the Defender, then handed it to her,
asking if she had seen this issue, and more specifically if she had seen
the photograph of her son in it. It is of a smiling, utterly boyish
Emmett, inescapably fourteen, his dark tie against a white shirt
lending him the air of Sunday-best efforts, a hat on his head, the
image of a boy hopeful about becoming a man. Did she have a copy of
this photograph with her? She had. And when was it made? All of the
photographs in all of the newspapers were made on the same day, two
days after Christmas in 1954, Mamie told him.

“Did you have several of those photographs made?” She
acknowledged that she had. “And did you furnish any of those
photographs to members of the press?”

“Yes, Sir.”
“And that was for photographic purposes to put in the papers, is

that right?” Breland had a number of different papers with him, all of
them littered with adorable photographs of her child. She had
provided the newspapers with copies. In fact, she had a number of
copies with her now, presumably in case other newspapers wanted to
feature his story. But there was more.

“Mamie,” Breland said momentously, “I hand you a paper, being
page 19 of the Chicago Defender, on the 17th of September, 1955,
which purports to be a photograph of some person. Will you look at
that and state whether or not this is also a photograph of Emmett Till
or the person who was shipped back to Chicago that you saw at the
funeral home there?” It was the grisly photograph of her son’s
battered, bloated body.

“This is a picture of Emmett Louis Till as I saw it at the funeral
home,” she said.

“And being the photograph of the same body which you then
identified as Emmett Till? And which you now identify as that of
Emmett Till, is that right?”

“Yes, Sir.”
The judge then asked Breland if he had finished his examination. “I

believe we have, Your Honor. And we submit that these are proper at
this time.”

The defense raised the matter of the Chicago Defender and the
photographs of Emmett in order to tie Mamie to the national outrage
pouring onto Mississippi from the Northern press, particularly the
African American press. The imagination was left to fill in the events
between the two photographs, which for many Northerners and black
people were sufficient for disgust, outrage, and scorn. This scorn from
outsiders had become very unpopular among white Mississippians,
even those who had no sympathy for the killers. The photographs and
the world’s disgust made it far harder to avoid the fact that whatever
had happened to that boy had happened in their state, under their
collective watch, and therefore with some degree of their collective
culpability. In story after story much of the world’s media made sure
that point was made. Breland’s associating Mamie with the national
press coverage marked her as an outsider and focused the hostility and
resentment of the jurors and the public on her. Smith injected, “Your
Honor, we think this is highly incompetent, this whole part of the

The judge replied:

With reference to that, I believe that the witness testified that the pictures taken—that
one of them is a picture of her son that was taken shortly after Christmas, and I believe
that the witness testified that it is a true likeness of her son during his lifetime. And she
also testified that the picture taken in Chicago after his death portrays a true picture of
what she saw there at that time.

Now, the Court is going to admit these pictures in evidence—that is, one picture there
that she produced, so that the jury may see the likeness of Emmett Till during his
lifetime. And the Court is going to let be introduced in evidence the picture made in
Chicago after his death. It will be cut from the paper, and the paper itself will not be any
part of the exhibit.

There will be no reference to any newspapers to which this witness may subscribe in
Chicago, or any reference to what she may read. And there [will] be no reference or
anything said about any newspapers or pictures other than this picture, which she had
identified as being a picture of her son taken after his death as she saw it there in
Chicago. That picture will be permitted.

Breland informed Judge Swango that he had one more topic that he
wanted to broach with the witness, one that might well be
objectionable to the defense. The judge urged him to go right ahead
and get it out of the way. The jury remained in the jury room. This
next line of questioning was an admission of a different sort, but one

that for much of the world implicitly defended Bryant and Milam’s
kidnapping of Till at two o’clock in the morning.

“Did you caution [your son] how to conduct himself and behave
himself while he was down here in Mississippi before he left there?”
Breland demanded.

“I told him when he was coming down here that he would have to
adapt himself to a new way of life. And I told him to be very careful
how he spoke and to whom he spoke, and to always remember to say
‘Yes, Sir’ and ‘Yes, Ma’am’ at all times.”

“And did you direct his attention as to how to act around white
people, and how to conduct himself about a white man? And did you
caution him in those conversations you had with him not to insult any
white women?”

“I didn’t specifically say white women. But I said about the white
people. And I told him that because, naturally, living in Chicago, he
wouldn’t know just how to act, maybe.”

“Prior to his coming down to Mississippi,” Breland pressed, “and
prior to his leaving Chicago, while he was living there in Chicago, had
he been doing anything to cause you to give him that special

“No, Sir. Emmett has never been in any trouble at any time.”
“And he has never been in a reform school?”
“No, Sir.”
“I believe you live on the south side in Chicago, is that right? And

that is the part of Chicago referred to as the black belt, is that right?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“And the people in the community, are they all colored people or

white people?”
“There are a few white people living there.”
“And they have their homes there, is that right?”
“Yes, Sir.”
Breland’s implication was clear: untutored, swaggering, race-mixing

South Side Chicago had gotten what it deserved.
“Is that all?” asked Judge Swango. The defense attorney said that it


“Now,” said the judge, “the objections to all that testimony will be
sustained, and there will be no questions along that line
whatsoever.”26 And yet, captured in the trial record, Chicago had been
placed on public trial in Judge Swango’s courtroom. A veil of a
different sort had been handed not to the men sequestered in the jury
room but to the state of Mississippi. Mamie took her seat and the jury
returned to the courtroom.


E V E RY L A S T A N G L O – S A X O N O N E O F


Across the courtroom Carolyn Bryant watched in awe as Mamie

Bradley testified. “I had all these things running through my mind,”
she recalled. “My husband’s going to the penitentiary, maybe for life. I
have children to support.” In her memory, however, her fears did not
squelch her astonishment at the African American mother across the
room. She could not stop thinking about her. “Here is this woman
whose child has been brutalized, just brutalized every kind of way—
how could she stand it? I don’t know how she went through the trial
the way she did.”1

One answer might be that no African American took the stand for
the prosecution without having first thought deeply about what doing
so was going to ask of them then and thereafter. In unique ways each
had already wrestled with the question of how they would live with
the consequences of their testimony. Mamie had decided beforehand
what her life would mean from then on. The rest of the black
witnesses had already made arrangements to leave Mississippi,
probably forever, and move to Chicago—including the next witness,
just four years older than Emmett Till, who by agreeing to testify was
saying goodbye to his home, his friends, his church, and everything he
had grown up around.2

Willie Reed was one of the witnesses unearthed by Howard’s
Mississippi underground as they scoured the cotton farms. He was an

eighteen-year-old who lived on the old Clint Sheridan place, a large
farm in Sunflower County managed by Leslie Milam. His testimony
would tie J. W. Milam to the site of the murder; with it the
prosecution shifted from trying to inspire sympathy to offering
eyewitness evidence of the crime. Like Moses Wright, Reed was asked
to point out Milam in the courtroom. Like Moses Wright, he provided
another icon of courage, knowing, as did most in that courtroom, that
he would have to move, perhaps change his name, live somewhere else
for the rest of his life. He surely also imagined that doing all of this
might not be enough, that his life might be taken anyway; he was
testifying, after all, against two white men in the murder of a black
boy. Nevertheless, when asked to identify the killers, he did not

“He is sitting right over there,” said Reed, pointing at the bald-
headed bear of a man at the defense table. Prosecutor Smith asked
Willie, for it was always “Willie” in court and never “Mr. Reed,” if he
had seen Milam on Sunday, July 28. “I seen him—when I seen him he
was coming to the well. . . . The well from the barn on Mr. Milam’s

Reed had left his grandfather’s house early that morning, between
six and seven, headed for a nearby store. From there, on his way to his
morning’s work, he went by Leslie Milam’s barn. A truck passed him,
a green and white Chevrolet pickup, the top white, the body green. It
was full of people. “Well, when the truck passed by me I seen four
white mens in the cab and three colored mens in the back. And I seen
somebody sitting down in the truck back there.  .  .  . I seen another
colored boy.” They were sitting on the sides of the truck, Reed said,
and had their backs to him.

“Well,” he continued, speaking so softly that many in the
courtroom could barely hear him, “when I looked at this paper, I was
sure—well, I had seen it, and it seemed like I had seen this boy
somewhere before. And I looked at it and tried to remember, and then
it come back to my memory that this was the same one I had seen in
the paper.”

“And that was Emmett Till?” asked Smith.

“I don’t know if that was him, but the picture favored him,” replied
Reed, who added that he had walked on past the barn.

“And what did you hear?” inquired Smith.
“It was like somebody whipping somebody.”
“We object to that,” Breland snapped.
“The objection is sustained,” Judge Swango responded.
Smith handed Reed a photograph of Emmett Till. “Now I ask you

to look at that picture and I ask you . . . does that or does that not
resemble the person you saw sitting there in the back of the truck on
that particular day?”

Again Breland objected and again he was sustained.
Smith tried another tack: “Have you ever seen that boy before?”
“It is a picture of the boy I saw on the back of the truck.”
“Now, later on in the morning, did you see J. W. Milam out there?”
“Well, when I passed by he came out by the barn to the well.”
“Will you state whether he had anything unusual on or about his

“He had on a pistol,” said Reed. “He had it on his belt.”
“And what did Mr. J. W. Milam do when you saw him?”
“He just came to the well and got a drink of water. Then he went

back into the barn.”
“Did you see or hear anything as you passed the barn?”
“I heard somebody hollering, and I heard some licks like somebody

was whipping somebody.”
“What was that person hollering?”
“He was just hollering, ‘Oh.’ ”
“Was it just one lick you heard, or was it two, or were there several

“There was a whole lot of them.”3

Silence fell over the room, the Baltimore Afro-American reported.
“There was no laughter in the courtroom then. Beer drinking dropped
to a bare minimum. Bryant and Milam looked a trifle pale and the
defense counsel—all five of them—looked worried.”4 The number of
facts the jurors were expected to disregard had increased considerably.

Reed told of walking a little farther down the road and stopping at
Mandy Bradley’s house and talking with her. “And after you left

Mandy’s house the first time where did you go?” Smith asked Reed.
“I came to the well. . . . I came to get her a bucket of water. . . . I

could still hear somebody hollering.” Taking Bradley her water, Reed
walked on to the store and went home to get dressed for Sunday
school. On his way back the truck was gone, the barn quiet.

The defense made two motions to strike all of Reed’s testimony, but
each time Judge Swango refused. This was the most damning
testimony so far, tying Milam directly to the killing of Emmett Till and
showing clear evidence of murder. It also changed the place where the
murder had been committed from Tallahatchie County to Sunflower
County, which could have implications for jurisdiction. Buttressing
Reed’s testimony were two subsequent witnesses, Mandy Bradley and
Reed’s grandfather Add Reed. Both of them confirmed the eighteen-
year-old’s account of that brutal morning. At 1:15 on only the second
day of the trial, the state rested its case.5

James Hicks, who had done so much to help locate the witnesses
and had discovered the story of the witnesses still hidden in Sheriff
Strider’s jail, was baffled. The closing of the prosecution’s case seemed
premature; at the least it left several witnesses still to be heard from.
Hicks was not alone; the Mississippi underground and the black and
white reporters who had helped round up the new witnesses also were
surprised the others were not called. Frank Young, whose midnight
visit to Dr. Howard’s place had set the underground to action, was
believed to have important evidence in the case. But Young, reportedly
seen outside the courthouse that morning, had disappeared. Later
some would fault the prosecution for not managing the witnesses
better, though it is hard to imagine that Young’s testimony would have
been decisive, since Reed told essentially the same story and his
grandfather and neighbor confirmed it.6 All five of the defense lawyers
later acknowledged to an interviewer that the state had presented
“sufficient evidence to convict” Milam and Bryant. The defense now
needed to offer jurors committed to acquittal some plausible pretext
for their votes.7

The first thing the defense did when the state rested its case was to
move that the court exclude all evidence offered by the state and issue
a directed verdict of not guilty for both defendants. Judge Swango

dismissed the motion out of hand. The second thing the defense did
was to call to the witness stand Mrs. Roy Bryant. It was time to play
the old song of the Bruised Southern Lily and the Black Beast Rapist.
Somewhere, perhaps while her husband’s family kept her hidden from
the world, hidden even from her own family, Mrs. Roy Bryant seemed
to have learned all of the verses.

Carolyn took the stand, swore to tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth, and answered Carlton’s questions about her
name, weight, height, marital status, and the like. “Now, Mrs. Bryant,
I direct your attention to Wednesday night, on the 24th day of August.
On that evening, who was in the store with you?”

Special Prosecutor Smith broke in: “If the Court please, we object
to anything that happened on Wednesday evening unless it is
connected up.” Breland interjected for the defense that they intended
to connect the testimony to existing testimony. Judge Swango retired
the jury so they could not hear the discussion or Carolyn’s testimony,
if any.

To anyone still committed to reading the Till trial as an exploration
of facts and justice, this is where things take an odd and revealing
turn. The jury had been given powerful prosecutorial evidence that
Bryant and Milam kidnapped and murdered Emmett Till. Rather than
refute that evidence, the defense now wanted to tell the jury why
Milam and Bryant had every reason to do so: because that black boy
had tried to rape this white Southern woman. There was the oddity:
the defense wanted to admit evidence that would further damn their
clients, and the prosecution wanted to stop the defense from
explaining why their clients were guilty.

So here is another shard of truth, which we must accept if we are to
make sense of the trial: faith in our courts and our laws, in the
statement chiseled above the columns of the U.S. Supreme Court
building—“Equal Justice Under Law”—can obscure the obvious,
particularly with the passage of time. There was no equal justice, no
universal protection of law in the Mississippi Delta, certainly not in
1955. If the real question was whether or not Milam and Bryant had
committed murder, wouldn’t each team of attorneys have approached
the trial differently? Of course. So why didn’t they? The obvious

answer is that every lawyer in that courthouse knew that a jury of
white male farmers from Tallahatchie County would hear a story
about a black boy and a white woman and approve of that boy’s
murder. The contradiction of a defense team strategizing to introduce
a motive for the crime they professed their clients did not commit
provided glaring evidence, if any were needed, that the trial had never
been about justice.

Fifty years later Carolyn summoned her courage to tell me that her
testimony had not been true, even though she didn’t remember what
was true, but that nothing Emmett Till did could ever justify what had
happened to him. But in 1955 she provided the court and the case
with a billboard: My kinsmen killed Emmett Till because he had it

Carolyn knew then, as she would admit much later, that her
testimony was a lie. If Till had deserved what happened to him, then
why did she hide the incident at the store from her husband and
brother-in-law, if that is what she did? If Till had done something
terrible, something he ought to have been brutally punished for, then
why had she been reluctant to identify him? If he had laid his hands
on her, then why didn’t she tell her lawyer so only a few days after it
happened? Why did her husband and brother-in-law persistently refer
to Till’s alleged crime as “smart talk” and “ugly remarks”? Is it
plausible that Till put his hands on Carolyn and yet his assailants
referred only to his verbal transgressions, never uttering a word about
something approaching a rape attempt?

But that day in the Sumner courthouse, the jury didn’t even need to
hear her testimony. After a brief discussion of legal points, the
question before Judge Swango boiled down to this: the unchallenged
testimony in court had heretofore been that Milam and Bryant came
to get “the boy that did the talking over at Money,” and now the
defense wanted to fill in the details of just what that “talking” had
concerned. Except whatever may have occurred in the store at Money
clearly did not alter the facts of a kidnapping and murder that
occurred several days later at the instigation of the defendants. What
should not have been a matter of courage—ruling appropriately on a
matter of law—became one in that Jim Crow courtroom: Judge

Swango ruled that the jury was not going to hear Carolyn Bryant’s

The world, however, would hear it. After Swango’s ruling, Breland
said, “We wish to develop the testimony for the sake of the record.”8

Why? Here is yet another shard of truth: Breland and his colleagues
knew it was next to certain that the jury would hear about Carolyn’s
testimony within a few hours. Indeed they knew that the jury had
taken their seats in the jury box with some understanding of what
Carolyn was going to say, what the combination of a dead black boy
and an affronted white Southern woman implied without anyone
saying anything further, their respective roles firmly established over
centuries. And as the jurors filed out of the courtroom, Carolyn
Bryant was at the witness stand, having come to play a part that each
of them knew by heart. So, “for the sake of the record,” Carolyn
Bryant testified.

“This nigger man came in the store and he stopped there at the
candy counter.” The counter was at the front of the store, on the left.
“I asked him what he wanted,” and he ordered some candy. “I got it
and put it on top of the candy case. I held out my hand for his money.
He caught my hand.” She demonstrated his grip.

“By what you have shown us,” said Carlton, who was handling the
direct examination, “he held your hand by grasping all of the fingers
in the palm of his hand, is that it?”

“Yes. I just jerked it loose.”
“Just what did he say when he grabbed your hand?”
“He said, ‘How about a date, baby?’ I turned around and started

back to the back of the store. He came on down that way and caught
me at the cash register. Well, he put his left hand on my waist and he
put his other hand on the other side.” At the request of her attorney,
she stood up and placed his hands on her body in just the way she said
the boy did.

“Did he say anything to you then at the time he grabbed you there
by the cash register?”

“He said, ‘What’s the matter, baby? Can’t you take it?’ ” It was
with considerable difficulty that she was finally able to free herself
from his hold on her. “He said, ‘You needn’t be afraid of me.’ ”

“And did he then use language that you don’t use?” Yes, he had
done that. “Can you tell the Court just what that word begins with,
what letter it begins with?” She shook her head. No, she could not
even say the first letter.

“In other words, it is an unprintable word?” It was. “Did he say
anything after that one unprintable word?”

“Well, he said, well, ‘——with white women before.’ ”
“When you were able to free yourself from him, what did you do

“Then this other nigger came in the store and got him by the arm.

And then he told him to come on and let’s go.”
“Did he leave the store willingly or unwillingly?”
“Unwillingly,” she replied. “He had him by the arm and led him

“When he went out the door, did he say anything further after he

had made these obscene remarks?”
“Yes. He turned around and said, ‘Goodbye.’ ”
There were perhaps eight or nine black boys out front, she said,

including her assailant, but she yelled back for Juanita Milam to
watch the store and then walked out through this crowd of boys to
Juanita’s car. She grabbed the pistol from under the front seat. The
black boy who had seized her around the waist and uttered
unspeakable obscenities was standing by one of the posts on the front
porch. And he whistled at her.

“Was it something like this?” Carlton whistled. She nodded yes.
“Did you have any white men anywhere around there to protect you
that night?”

“Was your husband out of town?”
“He was in Brownsville. He had carried a load of shrimp there.”
“When did you expect him home?”
“I didn’t know.” That was why Juanita was with her, she explained.

“So that I wouldn’t be alone.”9

After Carolyn returned to her seat and the twelve men returned
from the jury room, Dr. L. B. Otken testified for the defense. Having
justified the murder of Emmett Till to uphold the purity of white

Southern women, the defense shifted back to argue that their clients
did no such thing. The boy had it coming, in other words, but our
clients did not kill him. In fact, although it was his fault if he was
dead, he might not even be dead.

A practicing physician in Greenwood, Otken had apparently
viewed but did not examine Till’s body in “the colored funeral home.”
Even so the defense regarded him as an “expert witness” because he
was a physician who had experience with dead bodies. “This body
was badly swollen, badly bloated,” Otken said. “The skin and the
flesh was beginning to slip. The head was badly mutilated. The right
eye was protruding. And the tongue was protruding from the mouth.”
So far his testimony was no more than any reader of the Chicago
Defender or Jet could have told the court. “I would say it was in an
advanced state of decomposition,” he added. And then the point: “I
don’t think you could have identified that body.”

“Could a mother have identified that body, in your opinion?” asked

“I doubt it.”
On cross-examination Special Prosecutor Smith asked Otken

whether he “could tell if this was the body of a colored person or a
white person.”

Otken answered that he could not tell, which somewhat begged the
question of why the body went straight to “the colored funeral
home,” death in Mississippi being anything but integrated.

On redirect examination Breland asked Otken if he could tell
whether the injuries to the body that he described were present before
death or could have been inflicted on the body after death. “I
couldn’t,” answered Otken. In short, it was his studied opinion that
the body had been in the water longer than Emmett Till could have
been; that it was impossible to identify the body, even as to race; and
that the mutilation could have been caused by the body bouncing
along the bottom of the river, not evidence of murder.10

Sheriff Strider got the last word. He had gone to the river at about
9:15 on August 31, he told the judge, to see the body that people
claimed had belonged to Emmett Till. “Well,” he said, “it was in
pretty bad shape.” The skin had “slipped on the entire body.” There

was a small hole in the head and two or three serious gashes. He
estimated that the body had been in the river “at least ten days, if not
fifteen,” which is to say longer than the body of Till could have been
in the water. He could not even swear that the corpse was that of a
colored person, a point he reiterated: “At the time it was brought out
of the water he was just as white as I am except for a few places.” To
underscore the point he helpfully added, “If one of my own sons had
been missing, I could not swear if it was my own son or not, or
anyone else’s.” He had signed the death certificate, true, but he did not
recall whether or not it had Till’s name on it. Strider claimed that he’d
“had several reports about a negro who disappeared over there at
Lambert,” but he’d gotten conflicting stories. He’d been unable to
investigate further. “I have been tied up here in court.”11

The following morning the defense called a handful of friends to
attest to the fine character and neighborly attributes of J. W. Milam
and Roy Bryant. Then the defense rested its case and motioned to
exclude all the evidence the state had presented against the defendants
and direct the jury to send in a verdict of not guilty. Judge Swango
overruled the motions, maintaining that the evidence presented some
questions for the jury to answer for themselves. He ordered a fifteen-
minute recess, until 10:38, when attorneys for each side would present

Gerald Chatham, the powerfully built district attorney, delivered
the opening summation for the prosecution, followed by summations
from several members of the defense team, with Robert Smith of the
prosecution closing out. Chatham spoke with powerful emotion that
seemed to wring sweat from his body; his shirt was dripping wet by
the time he finished speaking in the sweltering courtroom.

“By every courtroom standard, the Mississippi born district
attorney made a great plea for the dead colored youth,” James Hicks
wrote, comparing Chatham to a Southern evangelist. “For his
numerous moments of brilliant oratory, he brought tears to the eyes
not only of those seated at the colored press tables but to some of the
white listeners as well.”13 Pounding the table occasionally, Chatham
asserted that he was not moved by “the pressure and agitation of
organizations outside or inside the state of Mississippi.” In other

words, he didn’t like the NAACP any more than the jury did. Instead,
he told them, “I am concerned with what is morally right. To be
concerned with anything else will be dangerous to the precepts and
traditions of the South.”

Chatham, knowing his jury well, hewed to a certain vision of
Southern identity. Foremost, a true Southerner would never kill a
child. “I was born and bred in the South, and the very worst
punishment that should have occurred was to take a razor strap, turn
[Emmett Till] over a barrel, and whip him. I’ve spanked my child and
you’ve spanked yours. The fact remains, gentlemen, that from the time
Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam took Emmett Till from the home of Mose
Wright he hasn’t been seen since.” What these two former soldiers did
was give a fourteen-year-old boy “a court martial with the death

“The very first words of the State’s testimony were dripping with
the blood of Emmett Till. What were those words, gentlemen? They
were, ‘Preacher, preacher, I want that boy from Chicago, the one that
did the talking in Money.’ . . . That wasn’t an invitation to that card
game [as] they claimed.”14

In addition to navigating notions of Southern loyalty and manners,
Chatham knew that he had to offset defense arguments that the body
in the river was not Emmett Till’s. So he told a story about the
disappearance of a beloved family dog. His son came to him one day
and said, “Dad, I’ve found Old Shep,” and led him to the badly
decomposed body of their dog. “That dog’s body was rotting and the
meat was falling off its bones, but my little boy pointed to it and said,
‘That’s Old Shep, Pa. That’s old Shep.’ My boy didn’t need no
undertaker or a sheriff to identify his dog. And we don’t need them to
identify Emmett Till. All we need is someone who loved him and cared
for him. If there was one ear left, one hairline, then I say to you that
Mamie Bradley was God’s given witness to identify him.”15

“They murdered that boy,” Chatham said finally, “and to hide that
dastardly, cowardly act, they tied barbed wire to his neck and to a
heavy gin fan and dumped him in the river for the turtles and the

When Chatham headed for his seat, Hicks heard Mamie, who was
sitting next to him, whisper to herself, “He could not have done any

C. Sidney Carlton offered the first summation for the defense. He
poured himself a paper cup of water from a green pitcher on the
judge’s desk as he began to speak and sipped it intermittently.18 The
final curious twist in the testimony of Carolyn Bryant then played out.
“Where is the motive?” Carlton asked. The incident at the store was
immaterial, he suggested to the jury. The “testimony by Bryant’s wife
did not implicate Till.” Her story of a black man who “molested” and
whistled at her did not reflect on the boy, and his clients certainly did
not kill him on that account. By this rhetorical feint he managed to
inform the jury that Carolyn Bryant had testified that she had been
sexually manhandled. The inevitable implication: after hearing what
happened to her, any red-blooded white man would have responded
the same way.

Moving from the racially visceral to the seemingly rational, Carlton
reminded the jury of the “scientific” evidence that the battered,
bloated body in question had been in the river much longer than Till’s
could have been. He then questioned the lighting at the Wright home
and whether it was plausible that the old man could have made a
positive identification. The most damning evidence—that Roy Bryant
had said “This is Mr. Bryant”—the defense attorney sought to
transform into a weakness: “Had any of you gone to Mose Wright’s
house with evil intent, would you have given your name? There’s
nothing reasonable about the state’s case.” He began to shout: “If
that’s identification, if that places these men at that scene, then none
of us are safe.”19 Of course Carlton didn’t mention that Milam and
Bryant had both confessed to the kidnapping. There was “nothing
reasonable about the state’s theory that Milam and Bryant kidnapped
Till in Leflore, drove several miles to a plantation in Sunflower
County, then doubled back into Tallahatchie County to dump the
body into a river.”20 In short, Milam and Bryant hadn’t kidnapped or
killed Emmett Till, but they would have been justified in doing so.
Here was the cold, unspoken fear running through the white South in
the 1950s: If we condemn Milam and Bryant, what else must we

condemn? If you vote to acquit these defendants, Carlton closed,
“may you feel, in the words of Charles Dickens, that ’tis a far, far
better thing you do now than you have ever done.”

J. W. Kellum, Sumner’s homegrown attorney, spoke briefly just
before the lunch recess. He called the jury “a peerage of democracy”
and “absolutely the custodians of American civilization.” A guilty
verdict would be tantamount to “admitting that freedom was lost
forever,” Kellum said solemnly. “I want you to tell me where under
God’s shining sun is the land of the free and the home of the brave if
you don’t turn these boys loose.” If you do not, “your forefathers will
absolutely turn over in their graves.” So began his flight of oratory,
some of it borrowed from Mississippi’s late governor Paul Johnson:

I want you to think about the future. When your summons comes to cross the Great
Divide, and as you enter your father’s house—a home not made by human hands but
eternal in the heavens—you can look back to where your father’s feet have trod and see
your good record written in the sands of time. And, when you go down to your lonely,
silent tomb to a sleep that knows no dreams, I want you to hold in the palm of your
hand a record of service to God and your fellow man. And the only way you can do that
is to turn these boys loose.21

“I thought I had heard it all during the testimony,” Mamie Bradley
wrote, “but those defense lawyers were saving the worst for last.”22

After the lunch recess John W. Whitten provided the final
summation for the defense. He took on the job of returning to Sheriff
Strider’s theory that the body pulled from the river was not the body
of Emmett Till but instead part of an NAACP-sponsored scheme to
bring down shame upon the state of Mississippi and drive a wedge
between the races. He acknowledged that Milam and Bryant may have
abducted the boy, but if they did, they had released him. Perhaps then
Moses Wright had taken him to the NAACP, who persuaded Wright
to plant that silver ring upon another decaying body so that people
would assume that it was Till.23 No doubt the young man had been
whisked back to Chicago or to Detroit, where he also had family.
Wrote Mamie, “They practically accused Papa Mose and the NAACP
of grave robbing.”24

“There are people who want to destroy the way of life of the
Southern people,” Whitten intoned. “There are people in the United

States who want to defy the customs of the South” by undermining
the time-honored and harmonious relations between the races and by
“trying to widen the gap which has appeared between the white and
colored people in the United States. Those people would welcome the
opportunity to focus national attention on Sumner, Mississippi. They
would not be above putting a rotting, stinking corpse in the river in
the hope that it would be identified as Emmett Louis Till. And they are
not all in Detroit and Chicago,” he said pointedly. “They are in
Jackson, Vicksburg”—where Medgar Evers organized, where the
NAACP had filed school desegregation petitions—“and they are in
Mound Bayou, too,” an unmistakable reference to Dr. T. R. M.
Howard and the RCNL. “And if Moses Wright knows one, he didn’t
have to go far to find him. And they include some of the most astute
students of psychology known anywhere. They include doctors and
undertakers and they have ready access to a corpse which could meet
their purpose.”25

But none of the evidence really mattered, Whitten told the jury. “It
is within your power,” he assured them, “to disregard all the facts, the
evidence, and the law, and bring in any decision you like based upon
any whim. There is no way anyone can punish you for any decision
you make. The last time an attempt was made by a judge to punish a
jury for refusing to follow his instructions was in England in the time
of Charles II, and this was overruled.  .  .  . You are our hope and
confidence to send these defendants back to their families happy.”26

Asking the jury directly to acquit Milam and Bryant, Whitten
expressed his full confidence that “every last Anglo-Saxon one of you
has the courage to do it.”27

With that invocation the defense’s perverted passion play
performed for the Jim Crow faithful was nearly finished. It was only
left to the prosecution to interrogate that script just enough and in just
the right way so that at least one Anglo-Saxon juror might find the
fortitude to question it. And so Robert Smith, the former FBI agent,
rose to give the last summation to the jury.

It was plain that he read the jury much as his colleagues for the
defense did: that they were a band of sunburned Mississippi farmers
outraged about the outsiders who scorned their state and their way of

life. They believed in that way of life as a bulwark against foreign
ideologies and disloyal revolutionaries. Preferring to acquit Milam and
Bryant, well aware of all the agitation from African Americans since
Black Monday, they might be persuaded to seize upon the defense’s
suggestion that the corpus delicti was part of an NAACP scheme. But
where the defense played on Anglo-Saxon unity and racial tradition—
surely a shrewd if predictable tack—Smith thought it possible that
basic, heart-deep honesty and perhaps a shred of paternalism toward
black people might give the jury room to believe the more plausible
narrative: that an old black uncle and a terrified but brave young
black man were telling the truth. To Smith fell the difficult task of
lighting a narrow pathway for these twelve white men to follow that
would preserve their dignity while it protested certain aspects of their
way of life, a pathway that defined and defended that way of life by
damning its worst excesses. He was asking them, and his closing
comments suggested that he knew it, to be as courageous as Wright
and Reed and Mamie Bradley.

Like the defense, Smith called upon the jury as fellow white
Southerners, men dedicated to their common homeland, though
clearly he urged a different strategy for preserving a Southern social
order based on defending human rights: “Gentlemen, we’re on the
defensive. Only so long as we can preserve the rights of everyone—
white or black—can we keep our way of life. . . . Emmett Till down
here in Mississippi was a citizen of the United States; he was entitled
to his life and liberty.”28

Also like his counterparts at the defense table, Smith played upon
the fears and resentments sown by outsiders, with their high-flown,
profit-driven assaults on the honor of Mississippi. “Outside
influences,” in fact, want the two murderers freed for their own
perfidious purposes. “If they are turned loose, those people will have a
fundraising campaign for the next fifteen years.”

As flimsy as it was, Smith had to deal with Strider’s conspiracy
theory about the identity of the body and the unscrupulous schemes of
the NAACP. The prosecutor described this theory in terms
considerably less admiring than the defense had used and ended by

calling it “the most far-fetched [proposition] I’ve ever heard in a

At the end of the day the prosecution team was counting on the
testimony of its African American witnesses—Moses Wright, Mamie
Bradley, and Willie Reed, in particular. Wright tied both defendants to
the kidnapping, and both of them acknowledged as much. He also
identified the body, though Mamie’s testimony went much further to
establish that the body belonged to her son. Reed, only eighteen,
proved himself as brave as Wright, pointing straight at Milam when
asked to identify the man he saw come out of the equipment shed with
a pistol strapped to his waist. His account of these events tied Milam
and his truck to the place where the murder occurred and was
substantiated by two other witnesses. But all these witnesses were
black, and for a white Mississippi jury to weigh their word against
Sheriff Strider’s and the defense’s version of events would have been

So when Smith asked the jury to look beyond race for the truth of
the brutal murder of Emmett Till, he did so in terms they could accept:
“Old Mose Wright is a good old country Negro, and you know he’s
not going to tell anybody a lie”; Mamie Bradley spoke with the
authority of a mother’s love; and Willie Reed was a plainspoken
young man of great courage. “I don’t know but what Willie Reed has
more nerve than I have,” Smith added. Then he made his way back to
the prosecution’s table.30

At 2:34 the jury retired to the jury room to decide the verdict.
Mamie, sitting at the black press table with Representative Diggs and
the contingent of reporters, decided she did not need to wait. “As the
jury retired,” she wrote later, “I measured the looks of the folks in the
rear and I turned to Congressman Diggs and the others. ‘The jury has
retired and it’s time for us to retire.’ ” She and Diggs, taking the still-
trembling Reed with them, made their way through the milling crowds
to their car and headed back to Mound Bayou.31



Milam, Bryant, and their accomplices expected a select audience for

their abduction and butchery of a black teenager. They expected that
audience to be local rather than regional or national, and it is unlikely
they gave world opinion any thought. They assumed any attention
given their crimes would be whispered rather than broadcast. They
abducted Emmett Till, killed him, and disposed of his body in ways
they knew would promote those whispers. With their guns and
flashlights and swagger, they knew that every black person in the
Delta would soon hear of his disappearance, and their role in it. From
the moment they got in the truck to grab the boy who “did the
talking” they were determined, as they would soon say publicly, to
send a message that would serve as both signpost and pillar of the
social order of white supremacy. From the moment they decided to kill
him, their act was a lynching, not an assassination or a simple murder.

White authorities were determined to claim otherwise. “This is not
a lynching,” declared Governor White. “It is straight out murder.”1

Yet despite such official and editorial claims, this was a lynching in the
sense that a group of people killed someone and presumed they were
acting in service to race, justice, tradition, and widely held values in
their community.2 The lynch mob never intended Emmett Till’s killing
to be one of the old spectacle lynchings, once common in the South,
with the victims burned alive or hanged before an audience of
hundreds or even thousands, body parts taken as souvenirs, lynching
photographs bought and sold, lurid accounts published in local

newspapers.3 As the twentieth century marched onward, extrajudicial
murders conducted for public viewing and participation were less
acceptable. But while Carolyn Bryant’s kinsmen intended, at least
initially, that the details of their torture and killing of Emmett Till
would remain their own family secret, they knew neighbors would
talk, and they expected them to do so. The decision to take the boy
started with storefront rumors, and they intended that his murder
would become a matter of local gossip and lore, a badge of honor
among the faithful.

A quiet joke went around: “Isn’t that just like a nigger to try and
swim the Tallahatchie River with a gin fan around his neck?”4 That
kind of local winking and terror were as far as the men who killed
Emmett Till expected their murderous handiwork to go. Instead Till’s
body rose from the dark waters of the Tallahatchie, ended up on
worldwide television, and painted his death brightly in the
unimaginable global imagination. Mass media and massive protest
may have made his murder the most notorious racial incident in the
history of the world. White mobs lynched thousands of African
Americans—even children occasionally—but it is Emmett Till’s blood
that indelibly marks a before and after. His lynching, his mother’s
decision to open the casket to the world, and the trial of Milam and
Bryant spun the country, and arguably the world, in a different

•  •  •

When the jurors filed out of the courtroom to begin their
deliberations, the crowd surrounding the Tallahatchie County
Courthouse thinned, but not in expectation of a drawn-out
deliberation. Fat raindrops had begun to bounce on the streets and
sidewalks of Sumner.5 The rain did little to cut the late summer’s
oppressive heat, and after just eight minutes the twelve jurors sent out
a request for Coca-Cola. In the courthouse Milam read the newspaper
and rocked on the back legs of his cane-back chair. Roy and Carolyn
Bryant looked nervous; she worried that her children might grow up
without a father in the house and that she would have no way to

support them. But whatever nervous tension was running between
Roy and Carolyn, it had dissipated enough that by the time the
foreman knocked on the inside of the jury room door after about an
hour, J.W. and Roy had already lit big cigars, swaggering with
confidence in their exoneration.6 Mamie Bradley, Moses Wright, and
all the other black witnesses had long ago left the courthouse.

As the jurors returned, the sun broke through the clouds outside
and a loud murmur arose from the crowd. Judge Swango rapped his
gavel and decreed that there would be no demonstrations in his
courtroom when the jury announced their verdict, nor were any
photographers to take pictures.7

The members of the jury looked solemn. Judge Swango asked them
to stand: “Gentlemen of the jury, do you have a verdict?” J. A. Shaw,
the foreman, answered, “We have,” then said, “Not guilty.” A shout
of celebration went up from the crowd, and the judge demanded
quiet. He reminded the jurors that he had instructed them to write
down the verdict, and sent them back into the jury room. Even so,
spectators in the stairwells rushed downstairs, and the refrain “Not
guilty” echoed in shouts through the corridors. When the jurors
reemerged, the judge asked Shaw to read the verdict aloud, which he
did: “We the jurors find the defendants not guilty.” By this time word
of the acquittals had reached out into the throngs, now increasingly
white, that were gathered outside, and a great commotion arose as
they sent up a cheer.8

Journalists, photographers, and well-wishers crowded around the
Milams and Bryants, shaking hands and slapping backs.
Photographers urged the couples to kiss for the cameras, which they
did. “I don’t remember anything about when the verdict was brought
out,” Carolyn said, “because all that went through my head was ‘Oh,
thank God, my children have a father,’ and so I don’t remember.”
While the Milams appeared genuinely happy, the Bryants’ affection
seemed oddly forced, perhaps an early sign of the centrifugal forces
that eventually would lead to divorce.9

The performance of the trial wasn’t over, however; now it was the
jury’s turn onstage. Having fulfilled their civic duty, the jurors filed
through the crowded room, exclamations of “Good work” and “Nice

going” trailing behind them.10 One juror explained to reporters that
the jury reached its verdict on the third ballot during the hour-long
deliberation. “There were several reasons for the verdict,” he said.
“But generally everyone reached the conclusion that the body was not
definitely identified.”11 The first ballot had three abstentions, the
second had two abstentions, and the third was unanimous—not one
juror had cast a “guilty” ballot. The hour’s delay had been staged,
with Sheriff-elect Harry Dogan sending word to the jury to “make it
look good” by taking their time. “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop,”
one juror said later, “it wouldn’t have taken that long.”12 In public,
however, most stayed on script. Shaw, a farmer from Webb—Mamie
Bradley’s birthplace—explained to reporters why they had voted to
acquit Milam and Bryant: “We had a picture of the body with us in
the jury room, and it seemed to us the body was so badly decomposed
it could not be identified.” But in the atmosphere of victory that
suffused the Sumner courthouse, decorum was hard to maintain.
Asked whether Mamie Bradley’s testimony had impressed the jury at
all, Shaw sneered, “If she had tried a little harder, she might have got a

Hugh Whitaker, a graduate student from the Sumner area whose
father had worked the trial as a law officer, returned half a dozen
years later and interviewed nine of the twelve jurors. He found that
not one had ever doubted that Milam and Bryant had killed Emmett
Till, and only one had even entertained Sheriff Strider’s suggestion that
the corpse might not be Till’s. Nobody had based his vote to acquit on
“outside interference” by the NAACP or the flood of reporters and
media coverage. All of the jurors Whitaker interviewed agreed that the
sole reason they had voted “not guilty” was because a black boy had
insulted a white woman, and therefore her kinsmen could not be
blamed for killing him.14

•  •  •

Mamie Bradley, Willie Reed, and Charles Diggs were on the highway
bound for Memphis, where they would catch northbound airplanes.
As promised, Diggs had bought a plane ticket to Chicago for Reed,

who had left the Delta only once in his life, and then only to go as far
as Memphis. They traveled quietly until the news came. “We were on
the road about fifteen minutes out of Mound Bayou,” Mamie wrote,
“when it was announced on the radio. There was such jubilation. The
radio reporter,” who appeared to be broadcasting from the courthouse
square, “sounded like he was doing the countdown for a new year.
You could hear the celebration in the background. It was like the
Fourth of July.”15

Whatever hopes any in that car had maintained during the trial,
none of them was surprised at the verdict. Nor was Reverend Wright,
his cotton harvested and his duty done. The most thoughtful observers
awaited not the jubilation of Sumner but the verdict of world opinion.

The cluster of cameras outside the courthouse should have
reminded the men and women of Sumner that much of the planet was
not only watching but judging them, judging Mississippi, and judging
the United States. That was a realization that would fully descend
upon them only over the ensuing months. For now they felt real pride.
No doubt the jurors and many local observers would have seconded
the secretary of the Citizens’ Council, who told Homer Bigart of the
New York Herald Tribune, “Sir, this is not the United States. This is
Sunflower County, Mississippi.”16 Others cheerfully asserted that the
trial exonerated Mississippi of the slurs slung at her. It had been a fair
trial and a proper verdict, proving the state could handle its own
affairs, thank you very much.

The journalists who covered the trial were more circumspect; none
of them was cheerful, although most considered it a fair trial but for
the verdict. “No prosecutors in the United States could have worked
harder or longer for a conviction than did District Attorney Gerald
Chatham and Special Prosecutor Robert B. Smith, both native white
sons of their state,” wrote James Hicks, who had come to Sumner
expecting “Mississippi white man’s justice” and nothing more. “And
no judge, whether on the Supreme Court bench or the rickety rocking
chair of the bench at Sumner could have been more painstaking and
eminently fair in the conduct of the trial than Judge Curtis M. Swango
of Sardis, Miss.” Unfortunately, lamented Hicks, white Mississippi and
the jurors held tightly to their age-old blind spot of racial prejudice,

“which prevents them from seeing and thinking straight when they
look upon a black face.”17

With varying degrees of interest and drawing a wide array of
lessons, white America wrestled with what had happened in Judge
Swango’s courtroom. Almost all of them agreed to knowing what the
jury had known, that Bryant and Milam had participated in killing
Emmett Till, and for the oldest of reasons white Southern men
sometimes killed African Americans: for an unacceptable sexual
affront to their sensibilities and status. Not mere prejudice but the
inbred fear of the Black Beast Rapist called the tune in Sumner’s
courtroom, several reporters noted. Max Lerner of the New York Post
wrote, “On the sanctity of white womanhood, a Mississippi jury is
only a vehicle for expressing the mass fear and hatred of the Negro.”18

The accusation that Emmett Till had attacked Carolyn Bryant boiled
the blood of white spectators. Jurors had almost certainly heard
rumors of “the talk” that had sent Bryant and Milam to kidnap the
boy, and their interpretation of that talk was steeped in centuries of
fearful myths. In his incendiary summation defense attorney Sidney
Carlton stated that Till “molested” Carolyn Bryant as if it were a fact
established by the proceedings. Bill Sorrells, who covered the trial for
the Memphis Commercial Appeal, observed that the defense “was
built on emotion and Mrs. Bryant was the key.”19 The defiant editors
of the Greenwood Morning Star seemed to confirm this analysis;
Mississippi’s misfortune, they wrote, was partly because the trial had
become known as the “wolf whistle case” or the “Till murder case,”
when all along it should have been called “this rape attempt case.”20

White Mississippians’ reaction to the legal process ranged from the
resentful to the surreal. Hodding Carter Jr. at the Delta Democrat-
Times, a Pulitzer winner and a moderate who had earned the hatred
of many white Mississippians, blamed the laxity of law enforcement
for the acquittals and blamed the NAACP for that laxity. Had local
officials not been put on the defensive, he opined, they “might
otherwise have made an honest effort to do more than what resulted
in an effective cover-up.” Carter sounded almost like the reactionary
editor of the Jackson Daily News as he blasted the NAACP for
“blanket accusations of decent people, their studied needling of the

citizens who had to decide a matter of local justice, and their
indifference to truth in favor of propaganda-making.”21

The editors of the Jackson Daily News agreed with Carter that the
evidence had been insufficient, but they felt none of his disapproval of
the outcome: “The cold hard fact concerning the acquittal in
Tallahatchie County of the two alleged slayers of a black youth from
Chicago is that the prosecution failed to prove its case.” The Memphis
Commercial Appeal affirmed that “evidence necessary for convicting
on a murder charge was lacking.”22 A great many white
Mississippians responded with pride that the trial had been a paragon
of fair play that demonstrated the Magnolia State’s critics wrong.
“Mississippi people rose to the occasion and proved to the world,”
declared the Greenwood Morning Star, “that this is a place where
justice in the courts is given to all races, religions and classes.”23

Carter became a kind of national expert on the occasional insanity
in his adopted home state. Outside Mississippi he spoke of the terrible
injustice of the Till affair, but at home he often seemed to consider the
blot on Mississippi’s good name to be the real tragedy. Attempting to
speak for enlightened Southern opinion, he wrote, “It was not the jury
that was derelict in its duty, despite the logical conclusions it might
have made concerning whose body was most likely found in the
Tallahatchie River, and who most likely put it there, but rather the
criticism must fall upon the law officials who attempted in such small
measure to seek out evidence and to locate witnesses to firmly
establish whoever was or was not guilty.” He chose to blame the
investigation that had produced such weak evidence, not the jury that
had assessed it.24

In a widely cussed and discussed piece in the Saturday Evening Post
titled “Racial Crisis in the Deep South,” Carter described Mississippi
as the most stubborn Southern state in its resistance to integration and
called the recent murders of George Lee, Lamar Smith, and Emmett
Till “symptomatic.” Whites considered the NAACP “the fountainhead
of all evil and woe,” and the factual nature of most of the NAACP’s
“bill of particulars  .  .  . doesn’t help make its accusations any more
acceptable.” He admitted, “The hatred that is concentrated upon the
NAACP surpasses in its intensity any emotional reaction that I have

witnessed in my Southern lifetime.” This reflected the NAACP’s
demands for voting rights and school integration as much as it did
their protests over the Till case. Carter also raised the sex bugaboo,
describing Till as “sexually offensive” and stating that “sexual alarm
on the part of white men may explain the failure to convict the men
accused of the slaying of Emmett Till.”25

Carter often stood on an increasingly precarious middle ground; he
was an early if sometimes wavering articulator of ideas that would
eventually herald a different sort of South, when the civil rights
movement rose to create it, only small thanks to people like him. In
this instance, however, he ran hard up against a butchered fourteen-
year-old. Carter tried, but there was scarcely a “Southern moderate”
place to stand. Many white Mississippians, particularly those running
the state, considered him a traitor. More liberal critics took shots at
him for defending the indefensible. Roi Ottley of the Chicago
Defender dismissed editor Carter of “pathetic Mississippi” as “a
victim of the South’s pernicious folkways,” a pitiful apologist who was
“attempting to smooth over the facts.”26

Other white Mississippians seemed to believe that communist
agents were responsible for promoting racial division. “Could there be
any doubt that this Mississippi murder—from the weeks or months
before young Till made his visit to the South—was communist-
inspired, directed and executed?” wrote a woman from Memphis.
“Did not some communist agent or agents murder the young Negro
after the white men turned him loose?”27 A well-dressed local woman
in Sumner told the television cameras, “I’m almost convinced that the
very beginning of this was by a communistic front.”28 Rumors also
flew that young Till had been found alive in Chicago, Detroit, or New

William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist and
Mississippi’s most celebrated son everywhere but in his home state,
was of two minds, one drunk and one sober. He understood as few
did the deep and global implications of the case. Asked to comment
during a sojourn in Rome, he cited the “sorry and tragic error
committed in my native Mississippi by two white adults on an
afflicted Negro.” In the perilous atomic age, amid the rise of

anticolonial struggles, Faulkner said, America’s Cold War competition
with the Soviet Union meant that the nation could no longer afford
racial atrocities and patent injustices. The Till case was the absolute
nadir. “Because if we in America have reached the point in our
desperate culture where we must murder children, no matter for what
reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably

Faulkner’s eloquent moral resolve apparently dissolved in
champagne when a reporter interviewed him in Paris a few months
later. Then he declared, “The Till boy got himself into a fix and he
almost got what he deserved.” The interviewer asked if the murder
would have been justified had Till been an adult. “It depends,”
Faulkner replied, “if he had been an adult and had behaved even more
offensively.  .  .  . But you don’t murder a child.” Soon afterward
Faulkner pled drunkenness and blamed both the champagne and the
interviewer. “These are statements which no sober man would make
nor, it seemed to me, any sane man believe.” W. E. B. Du Bois,
speaking on a radio program in California, challenged Faulkner to a
debate at the courthouse in Sumner. Faulkner politely declined.31

Elizabeth Spencer, a white Mississippi novelist a quarter century
younger than Faulkner, also found herself in Rome that autumn.
When she returned in September 1955 she discovered that white men
had lynched Emmett Till near her father’s farm in the Delta. In the
expectation that her father—whose racial convictions she had
regarded as enlightened—would feel much the same way, Spencer
expressed her horror at the crime and the verdict. But her father
“refused to discuss it,” she said, “or to hear any discussion of it. He
said that we [white people] had to keep things in hand.” Parting ways
with her father, her ears “ringing with parental abuse,” Spencer
headed for Oxford, Mississippi, then abandoned the state altogether
and moved to New York City, resolved “in my bones, in the sick,
empty feeling there inside  .  .  . You don’t belong here anymore.” She
took with her the manuscript of her third novel, The Voice at the Back
Door—a call for justice in Mississippi that would appear to critical
acclaim in 1956.32

African American leaders, intent on what would happen next,
underlined as Faulkner had the poisonous effect of the Till case on
U.S. foreign relations in the context of the Cold War and anticolonial
revolutions across the world. Here they spied an opportunity. Whites
had murdered African Americans without consequence before this,
and surely whites would murder African Americans without
consequence after this; for them the urgent issue was how the toll
could be slowed, confronted, and eventually stopped. And the
international context of Emmett Till’s murder offered them powerful
political leverage toward that goal.

During the trial, Cora Patterson, an official in the Chicago branch
of the NAACP, noted, “The eyes of the world are on that trial. It’s not
going to help the United States’ situation in Europe and Asia if a fair
trial is not held.”33 At a labor rally on Seventh Avenue in New York
after the acquittals, Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. called the
Till murder “a lynching of the Statue of Liberty. No single incident has
caused as much damage to the prestige of the United States on foreign
shores as what has happened in Mississippi.”34 Channing Tobias,
chair of the NAACP’s board, declared, “The jurors who returned this
shameful verdict deserve a medal from the Kremlin for meritorious
service in Communism’s fight against democracy.”35

•  •  •

These international dynamics were nothing new. World War II had
given black Americans unprecedented power to redeem or repudiate
American democracy in the eyes of the world, a fact that A. Philip
Randolph employed to great effect in his wartime March on
Washington movement.36 The war also crippled European colonialism
and gave rise to the Cold War rivalry between the United States and
the Soviet Union. Among the darker-skinned people of the world, the
postwar competition between the superpowers was urgent largely in
terms of their own anticolonial concerns; therefore the caste system of
color in the United States spoke louder than the nation’s ringing
rhetoric of democracy. A U.S. State Department report conceded that
“the division of opinion on many issues” in the newly created United

Nations General Assembly “has sometimes tended to follow a color
line, white against non-whites, with Russia seeking to be recognized as
the champion of non-whites.”37

“It is not Russia that threatens the United States so much as
Mississippi,” the NAACP declared in a 1947 petition to the United
Nations. The petition, which decried “the denial of human rights to
minorities in the case of citizens of Negro descent in the United
States,” created an “international sensation,” as the NAACP’s Walter
White put it. The national office, White said, was “flooded with
requests for copies of the document” from nations “pleased to have
documentary proof that the United States did not practice what it
preached about freedom and democracy.”38 This new understanding
that international politics might hold the key to full citizenship for
African Americans marked “an historic moment in our struggle for
equality,” one newspaper editor wrote to W. E. B. Du Bois. “Finally
we are beginning to see that America can be answerable to the family
of nations for its injustices to the Negro minority.”39

Many elements of the federal government appeared to agree with
the substance of the NAACP’s assertions. “We cannot escape the fact
that our civil rights record has become an issue in world politics,”
President Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights declared in 1947. “The
world’s press and radio are full of it.  .  .  . Those with competing
philosophies have stressed—and are shamelessly distorting—our
shortcomings.”40 Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote in 1952,
“Racial discrimination in the United States remains a source of
constant embarrassment to this Government in the day-to-day
conduct of its foreign relations.” The U.S. Justice Department filed a
series of briefs in the cases leading up to the Brown v. Board of
Education decision that supported the NAACP’s position in exactly
those global terms. “Racial discrimination furnishes grist for the
Communist propaganda mills,” Attorney General Brownell wrote to
the Supreme Court, “and it raises doubts even among friendly nations
as to the intensity of our devotion to the democratic faith.”41 On May
17, 1954, so-called Black Monday, the Voice of America instantly
heralded the Brown decision across the planet in thirty-five
languages.42 Fifteen months later the Till case blew apart much of the

goodwill that Brown had won for the United States around the

Newspapers in countries across the world called the acquittals
“scandalous,” “monstrous,” “abominable,” and worse.44 Eleanor
Roosevelt published an editorial entitled “I Think the Till Jury Will
Have an Uneasy Conscience,” in which she noted that “the colored
peoples of the world, who far outnumber us,” had fixed their
attention on the Till trial and that the United States had “again played
into the hands of the Communists and strengthened their propaganda
in Africa and Asia.”45 She did not exaggerate. In fact, outrage over the
verdict in Ghana represented a legitimate threat to U.S. goals in
Africa.46 Carl Rowan, a successful black journalist for Time
magazine, was in New Delhi in the mid-1950s on a speaking tour
sponsored by the State Department to highlight white Americans’
growing acceptance of African Americans. He had to “face hundreds
of questions over the weeks about white people in America murdering
a fourteen-year-old boy named Emmett Till because he allegedly
whistled at a white woman.”47 The State Department reported that
“in Communist pamphleteering” in the Middle East the Till case was
highlighted as “ ‘typical’ of repressive measures against minority
groups in the United States, with special focus on the feature that the
courts condoned this act.”48

In 1956 the U.S. Information Agency surveyed European disdain
for American race relations and found the Till case the “prevalent”
concern, though it would soon be weighed alongside mob violence at
the University of Alabama and in Little Rock.49 “Since the Emmett
Till case in Mississippi last fall,” the American Embassy in Brussels
reported to the State Department, “the Belgian Press has directed
increasing attention to problems of racial relations in the United
States. The press of all shades of political opinion and political leaders
with whom the Embassy has talked have been astonished at and
strongly condemned the racial prejudice evident in such recent
cases.”50 The Italian communist press hammered readers with the Till
case day after day, and the Vatican’s official mouthpiece,
L’Osservatore Romano, found it deplorable that “a crime against an
adolescent victim remains unpunished.”51 A memorandum from the

American Embassy in Copenhagen to the secretary of state described
“the real and continuing damage to American prestige from such
tragedies as the Emmett Till case.” Sweden’s Le Democrate responded
to the verdict with an editorial, “A Disgusting Parody of Justice in the
State of Mississippi.”52 Das Freie Volk in Düsseldorf declared, “The
life of a Negro in Mississippi is not worth a whistle.”53

In 1956 the State Department reported that the “Till affairs drew
greater attention in France than they did in the United States.”54

Feeling the sting of world opinion about French colonial rule in
Algeria, France welcomed evidence of American hypocrisy on race.
The conservative Paris daily Figaro printed an editorial three days
after the acquittals with the banner headline “Shame on the Sumner
Jury,” urging Americans to “look into their own actions.” The
conditions under which black people live in America, observed the
centrist paper Le Monde, should “incite more reserve and modesty on
the part of those who decry the ‘colonialism’ of others.”55 A mass
meeting in Paris adopted a resolution addressed to the U.S.
ambassador calling the lynching and acquittals “an insult to the
conscience of the civilized world.”56

The New York Post’s editorial board perhaps said it best: “Like
other great episodes in the battle for equality and justice, this trial has
rocked the world, and nothing can ever be quite the same again—even
in Mississippi.”57 Beyond the commonly understood borders of race,
nation, and freedom, the Till case laid bare the contradictions at the
heart of America’s history and forced this most powerful nation to
take stock of itself—if nothing else, to assess its loudly self-proclaimed
standing among the world’s peoples. Many believed America itself had
killed Emmett Till. Its allies were concerned, its enemies gleeful. The
Magnolia State’s own native son, Richard Wright, issued an astute
assessment of the case’s implications from his self-exile in Paris: “The
world will judge the judges of Mississippi.”58



None of the hopeful organizers of the protests on September 25, 1955,

could have forecast the scope of their success. Four thousand church
and United Auto Workers members packed Detroit’s Bethel AME
Zion, designed to accommodate 2,500; fifty thousand more lined an
eight-block radius around nearby Scott Methodist Church.
Representative Charles Diggs addressed between six and ten thousand
people in that city, describing the “sheer perjury and fantastic twisting
of the facts” at the trial in Sumner. Diggs charged that Mississippi
represented “a shameful and primitive symbol of disregard for the
essential dignity of all persons which must be destroyed before it
destroys all that democracy is to represent.”1 Reverend C. L. Franklin,
one of the most admired black preachers of his generation, showed up
waving a wad of cash and urging the crowd to give generously to
support the struggle. Ushers carried bags and baskets brimming with
cash.2 Churches, labor unions, and other organizations presented
substantial checks. One source reported that the Diggs rally alone
contributed $14,064.88 to the coffers of the NAACP, a princely sum
in 1955.3

NAACP branches in scores of communities collaborated with more
than a dozen labor unions, coordinated by the national office of the
NAACP and the United Packinghouse Workers of America. The
national convention of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine
Workers swelled the crowd in Cleveland on September 25.4 In Kansas

City preachers and meatpackers gathered at Ward AME Church at
22nd Street and Prospect.5

The protest at Metropolitan Church in Chicago drew ten thousand
to hear Mamie Bradley, the journalist Simeon Booker, and Willoughby
Abner, president of the NAACP’s Chicago branch and an official for
the United Auto Workers.6 Mamie must have quickly hopped a plane
after her appearance in Chicago in order to take the stage with Roy
Wilkins and A. Philip Randolph in Harlem. After gathering at
churches, labor halls, and campuses across New York City, tens of
thousands made their way to a big outdoor stage in Harlem to hear
Randolph declare that “only the righteous revolt” of citizens
throughout the country could halt “this wave of terrorism” in the
South. He called for a March on Washington to protest President
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s failure to protect African Americans in the
South. Mamie told the crowd, “What I saw at the trial was a shame
before God and man.”7 An internal report of the UPWA estimated
that “50,000 people turned out in New York City to hear A. Philip
Randolph, president of the AFL Sleeping Car Porters, blast the
whitewash of the brutal crime.”8 The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car
Porters, the NAACP, and the Jewish Labor Committee, “representing
500,000 workers in the AFL,” along with a number of progressive
churches and other groups, sponsored the huge rally.9

The Mississippi underground that located nearly all the African
American witnesses for the murder trial of Milam and Bryant was well
represented on the stump during the September 25 national rallies. Dr.
T. R. M. Howard gave a two-hour speech to a crowd of more than
2,500 at Sharp Street Methodist Church in Baltimore, calling for the
investigation of negligent FBI agents in the South and irritating the
hell out of Director J. Edgar Hoover. “It’s getting to be a strange
thing,” said Howard, “that the FBI can never seem to work out who is
responsible for killings of Negroes in the South.”10 In Detroit,
Howard’s old friend Medgar Evers also blasted the treatment of
blacks in Mississippi, detailing the murders of George Lee and Lamar
Smith. Ruby Hurley, who had worn a red bandana and work clothes
to sneak onto the Delta plantations with Evers and Amzie Moore in
search of witnesses, spoke alongside Thurgood Marshall at an

“overflow rally” in Holy Rosary Church’s school auditorium in

A combined total of well over 100,000 attended rallies that day in
Chicago, New York, Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, New Rochelle,
Newark, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and many other cities and towns
across the country.12

This was not the cramped, fearful McCarthy era, nor did it reflect
what one Democrat called the Eisenhower administration’s languid
gaze “down the green fairways of indifference.”13 Something new was
afoot. In cities all across America citizens found Mississippi guilty as
charged. The response was a gathering of activists in the North—labor
unionists, religious progressives, stalwarts of the Old Left, and
ordinary citizens—that would join activists in the South to transform
the Southern civil rights movement into a national coalition. The
quickly emerging movement was so large that no one person or
organization could manage it. Not since the Scottsboro trials of the
1930s had the country seen anything like it.14 The killing of that boy
who “did the talking” had become much more than just another
lynching in the South. For some, including Mamie Bradley, it was an
Archimedean lever with which to move the world.

•  •  •

After September 25 churches, labor unions, NAACP branches, and
other organizations gathered strength for a second wave of protests
the following week. The largest church in Detroit, Greater King
Solomon Baptist Church at 14th and Marquette, held a twenty-four-
hour service on September 29 to motivate support for rallies on
October 1 and 2.15 Twelve pastors and Mamie Bradley addressed the
four thousand gathered there. “Mrs. Bradley said she had recovered
from the sorrow she felt at her son’s death,” reported the Chicago
Tribune, “and ‘Now I’m angry—just plain angry.’ She urged a united
front in the fight for civil rights.”16 The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car
Porters, the Urban League, the United Steelworkers, the UPWA, and
the NAACP organized mobilization meetings in Chicago, New York,
Milwaukee, and Buffalo, and across the country built momentum for

the massive national protests. When the day came, the headline in the
Chicago Defender proclaimed, “100,000 Across Nation Protest Till

Mamie Bradley well knew that being the mother of Emmett Till
made her uniquely useful to and powerful in the struggle. The
demands on her were constant and increasingly begged trade-offs.
Despite rumors that she had collapsed from exhaustion in Chicago on
October 1, she walked into Williams Institutional CME Church in
New York City on that same day, only a week after her last
appearance there. Three thousand people had been waiting in the
sanctuary, some of them for hours. The Chicago Defender estimated
at least fifteen thousand more huddled outside, listening on
loudspeakers. The throng applauded, cheered, and wept at the sight of
Emmett Till’s mother. A. Philip Randolph was the first to speak. “If
America can send troops to Korea  .  .  .  ,” he began, and the crowd
drowned him out with its roar. In Cold War fashion, the New York
branch of the NAACP had urged Mamie not to participate in this rally
because of its alleged “pinkish tinge,” or leftist sympathies, but to
return instead for its own mass meeting the following Sunday. She
rejected the counsel. She resented not only what the Chicago Defender
called the “petty jealousy” and “unnecessary confusion” among the
various civil rights organizers but also the huge sums being raised on
her courage and her son’s death while her own financial needs grew
dire; she had been unable to work since being swept up by the

Of these concerns internal to the movement the wider world knew
little and cared less. On Sunday, October 2, tens of thousands again
gathered in Detroit, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and a number of
other cities to protest the Till verdict and call for federal action. Three
thousand packed Chicago’s Metropolitan Church and perhaps seven
thousand more spilled into the street in what some said was the largest
and most energetic civil rights meeting in the history of the Chicago
NAACP. Willoughby Abner spoke on historic Mississippi atrocities
and racial conflict in Chicago. Simeon Booker told stories of covering
the trial in Sumner. Frank Brown, who had attended the trial for the
UPWA, and Charles Hayes, the union’s District 1 director, each held

forth on the ties between civil rights and labor issues.19 This was also
the topic in Minneapolis, where the AFL demanded that the federal
government act in the Till case, and at the New York convention of
the International Association of Machinists, AFL, where Herbert Hill,
the national NAACP labor secretary, told three hundred delegates that
trade unions were imperiled “because the South remains a land of
trigger-happy sheriffs and lynch mobs using violence not only against
innocent Negroes but also against union organizers.”20

The national office of the NAACP, flush with funds donated at
dozens of mass meetings, scheduled rallies across the North and South
in the weeks ahead, many featuring Mamie Bradley. In Alabama, it
was Birmingham, Montgomery, and Tuskegee; in Georgia, Atlanta
and Savannah had large protests. Both Charleston, South Carolina,
and Charleston, West Virginia, were on the schedule, as were Miami
and Tampa, Dallas and Fort Worth, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,
Boston and Springfield, Toledo and Cincinnati, Camden and New
Brunswick. The Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville
NAACP branches prepared to host rallies, as did those in St. Louis,
East St. Louis, and Kansas City. Milwaukee, Des Moines, and
Washington, D.C., rounded out the tour. Whether Mamie would bear
up under the pace of this schedule remained to be seen.21

For the rest of October and in November protests continued from
New York to Los Angeles. Moses Wright spoke from time to time,
walking back and forth, pounding his fist into his palm, and
animating his performances in the manner of a veteran Church of God
in Christ preacher. “Rally of 20,000 here cheers call for action against
Mississippi goods,” the New York Times reported on October 12.
Jammed into the Garment District on 36th Street between Seventh and
Eighth, the twenty thousand protestors roared their approval when
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. proposed a national boycott on Mississippi
products and a March on Washington in January to demand that
Congress finally pass an antilynching bill. Activists quickly organized
March on Washington Committees in New York, Detroit, Chicago,
and elsewhere.22

Throughout the fall and into the winter, mass meetings flourished
in New York, Chicago, and Detroit, as well as Newark, Boston,

Cleveland, St. Louis, and Milwaukee.23 In Los Angeles some five
thousand persons crowded into the Second Baptist Church, with
several thousand more standing outside, to protest the Till case.
Almost certainly a majority of them were first- or second-generation
Southern transplants of the Great Migration. As described by the
Chicago Defender, “The meeting was punctuated by screams and
occasional outcries as Dr. T. R. M. Howard of Mississippi related facts
and details about what he termed the ‘cruel, desperate and deadly’
treatment of Negroes in his home state.” Silence ruled when the
eloquent physician turned his eye to Los Angeles itself. “How many of
you within my sight and the sound of my voice are enjoying the
luxury of Cadillacs, safe, comfortable homes, and the privilege to
vote, while thousands of your brothers in blood live in fear of their
lives?” he demanded. The rally raised roughly $10,000.24

In mid-November the NAACP disclosed that more than a quarter
million people had heard Mamie Bradley or Moses Wright speak at
their rallies, and Howard claimed that he had addressed thirty
thousand people.25 When Medgar Evers reported on his out-of-state
speeches on the Till case, he listed Detroit twice, St. Louis, East St.
Louis, Washington, D.C., Tampa, and Nashville.26 Both Howard and
Adam Clayton Powell spoke in Montgomery in November. There
would be many more speeches in a movement organized by
indignation over the Till case.

•  •  •

Any thought that the case would fade as 1955 turned into 1956 would
soon vanish, thanks to the ongoing protests but also to the work of
William Bradford Huie, a seventh-generation Alabama novelist and
journalist with an inflamed ambition and iridescent imagination. In
January 1956 Look magazine, with one of the largest circulations in
the country, published Huie’s “Shocking Story of Approved Killing in
Mississippi.”27 In addition to copies for their nearly four million
subscribers, Look printed an extra two million for the newsstands.28

Three months later the story was reprinted for eleven million

subscribers to the Reader’s Digest.29 Huie’s story would shape
America’s imagination of the Till case for fifty years.

Huie began working on the Till case a month or so after the
acquittals.30 In Sumner he met with J. J. Breland, pointing out that the
truth of what happened had never been established. “And this lawyer
said, ‘Well, I’d like to know what happened. I never asked them
whether they killed the boy or not.’ ”31 A pioneer in what would later
be derided as “checkbook journalism,” Huie told Breland that Look
would pay Milam and Bryant $4,000 to give their account. Breland
called in the killers and relayed Huie’s offer. Because they had been
acquitted, they could not be tried again for the same crime; therefore,
without shame or law to impede them, and with cash on the table,
there was no reason not to go public with their version of events. They
accepted. There would be $1,000 for the law firm and $3,000 to be
divided between Milam and Bryant in exchange for the story of Till’s
kidnapping, beating, and murder. Huie would state the facts, including
quotes, without saying how he had gotten them; that would allow the
half-brothers to maintain some pretense of innocence. And they would
sign a waiver not to sue Huie for libel. Breland then set up a week of
secret meetings at the law firm at night. After Look’s senior counsel
showed up with a satchel full of cash, J. W. Milam and Roy and
Carolyn Bryant told Huie their story through a haze of cigarette
smoke, with Milam doing most if not all of the talking.32

If any of them mentioned a physical assault of any kind on
Carolyn, Huie did not report it, which seems unlikely given his
penchant for the sensational. In this version Emmett Till of Chicago,
visiting his country kinfolks in Mississippi, boasted to his young
cousins about having had sex with a white girl. Outside Bryant’s
Grocery the youths dared Till to ask Carolyn Bryant for a date. He did
so. Hearing the tale, Milam and Bryant kidnapped the boy from his
great-uncle’s farmhouse, intending merely to beat him, but Till taunted
them with stories of having sex with white girls and proclaimed his
own equality. In short, the boy virtually committed suicide.

“We were never able to scare him,” Milam told Huie. “They had
just filled him so full of that poison he was hopeless.” The men took
turns smashing Till across the head with their .45s. The boy never

yelled, but continued to say things like “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 made their case:

Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger. 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
even 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 have some rights. . . . Goddam
you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know where me and
my folks stand.33

And so, Milam said, they drove to the cotton gin, forced Till to carry
the heavy fan to the truck, took him to the riverbank, shot him in the
head, and rolled him into the river.34 In this version, it was a
“coincidence” that Till’s ignorant bravado met Milam’s ignorant
brutality at just the wrong place and time, “too soon after the
Supreme Court had decreed a change in the Delta ‘way of life.’ ”35

This was not a tell-all; for one thing, Huie knew that more than two
people were involved in the murder of Emmett Till, but he decided to
forget that inconvenient fact because it would cost too much to get
releases to print their names.36 In Milam and Bryant’s version the one
person who receded further from view was the real-life fourteen-year-
old Emmett Till, with his slight stutter, his imitations of Red Skelton
and Jack Benny, and his ability to see second base in a loaf of bread.

•  •  •

The real Emmett Till was also not in evidence at the national protests
that continued well into the spring of 1956, but his family and their
Mississippi allies certainly were. T. R. M. Howard’s finest hour came
at what A. Philip Randolph billed as “the Historic Madison Square
Garden Civil Rights Rally,” otherwise known as the “Heroes of the
South” rally. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters did much of the
organizing, and In Friendship, a fundraising organization, did the rest.
Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, Stanley Levison, Norman Thomas, and

other liberals, radicals, and labor activists in New York founded In
Friendship in early 1956, using the energy around the Till case and the
Montgomery Bus Boycott to fund the boycott and to assist grassroots
activists in the South who suffered economic reprisals for their civil
rights activities. The Heroes of the South rally, set for May 24, 1956,
at Madison Square Garden, was their first big project.37

The rally drew more than sixteen thousand people. Besides
Randolph and Howard, the evening featured Eleanor Roosevelt,
Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Roy Wilkins, Autherine Lucy, Rosa Parks,
and E. D. Nixon. Parks and Nixon filled in for the headliner, Martin
Luther King Jr., who backed out to attend a meeting in Montgomery.
Sammy Davis Jr. and the bandleader Cab Calloway provided musical

Randolph introduced Howard as “a man who has dedicated his life
to the cause.” He praised Howard for confronting “the racialism and
tribalism of those who would strike down the Constitution and take
away the rights of the people of Mississippi merely because of
color.”38 Howard followed with a Cold War thrust: “I come to you
tonight from that Iron Curtain country called Mississippi. I tried to
call home a few minutes ago to see if we were still in the Union.” He
quickly reviewed his home state’s hardcore racist history, mentioning
the notorious Senator Theodore Bilbo and the still venomous Senator
James O. Eastland. His humor was sly and sharp-edged. “The
governor recently called a special session of the legislature to have the
letters N, A, C and P removed from the alphabet and to have the
words ‘integration’ and ‘desegregation’ stricken from the English

Howard described the recent upheavals in race relations in
Mississippi since Brown v. Board of Education and the NAACP’s
campaigns for desegregation of the public schools and access to the
ballot. The Citizens’ Council, “the worst internal threat that we have
to our American way of life,” was spreading across the South.
Reverend George Lee, “a great friend of mine,” and Lamar Smith, “a
personal friend of mine,” had been murdered for seeking voting rights,
and no one had been arrested in either case. The boy Emmett Till had
ascended to a pantheon of martyrs, a rallying point alongside Lee and

Smith for justice and progress. “We have grown tired of fighting for
something across the sea that we can’t vote for in Belzoni.” Howard
asserted, “The [white] people of Mississippi are not afraid of the
Supreme Court. They are not afraid of Congress. But every time you
mention the NAACP, they tremble in their boots. We should all
support the National Association for the Advancement of Colored

Asking the crowd for a show of hands, Howard remarked that a
large majority of those present were blacks born in the South. “The
reason that you’re in New York,” he said, “is because you were
running away from some of those conditions that we have described
here tonight.” He confronted not just the Jim Crow South but the
complacent North: “The pitiful part of it is that you have forgotten
about the conditions in the South and you are not doing much about
the damnable conditions that exist right here in New York City.”
Appreciating his candor, the crowd slowly began to applaud, building
to a roar.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he responded, “the people of South
Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi cannot hear your
applause tonight. We’ve got to do something more than just clap our
hands about the situation. I believe the papers ought to carry
tomorrow that this group gave a hundred thousand dollars to help
carry the fight in the Southland.”40

As Howard took his seat, Randolph reminded the crowd that they
were “planning to use the funds that are collected at this meeting for
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and
the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” At that point, the boycott was almost
six months old and showed no sign of ending anytime soon. The
UPWA donated $1,632.04, boosting their support for the boycott that
spring to well over $5,000; they would continue to be major
supporters of Dr. King’s work throughout the 1960s. Local 32 of the
United Steelworkers gave an additional $1,000 at the rally, and the
Transport Workers Union wrote a check for $700.41

Conspicuous by her absence that night was Mamie Bradley. She
had shared her grief with the nation, inviting the world to “see what
they did to my boy.” In early September, weeks before the beginning of

the trial, she had clarity about her role in the drama of her boy’s death
and the potential redemption of her loss. “This is not just for
Emmett,” she said only a week after his funeral, “because my boy
can’t be helped now, but to make it safe for other boys.” She vowed to
see that his killers were punished but also insisted that the federal
government must protect all black citizens. “I’m willing to go
anywhere, to speak anywhere, to get justice.” A falling-out with Roy
Wilkins soon curtailed her speaking schedule, but she never ended her
cry for justice, not until she died in 2003.42

Except there was no justice to be had for Emmett Till, not in 1955,
not in 1956, not even decades later. The depth and malignancy of
white supremacy beggared notions of justice. There was progress,
eventually, which came with the effort of a great many and the deaths
of more than a few on the battlefields of race in America. One
consequence of the public battle that Mamie Bradley started was that
her son became less of a boy and more of an icon that spoke to those
struggling across the nation, in both the North and the South.
“Everyone knew we were under attack,” recalled one black journalist,
“and that attack was symbolized by the attack on a fourteen-year-old

White Southerners regarded this obsession with Emmett Till as an
injustice to them. They pointed to the hypocrisy of white Northerners
who protested the Till murder but refused to see the racial brutality
around them. When Mamie and Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago
joined in asking President Eisenhower to intervene in the Till case, the
contradictions were too much for some Mississippians. Their
statement, reported the Greenwood Morning Star, was something that
“Mississippi people resent very much. We notice that a press dispatch
says there have been 27 bombings in Chicago in the past 16 months
and that they have gone unsolved.” The mayor of Chicago should
“clean up his own crimes before he spouts off in condemnation of

That was a sentiment more or less shared by many African
Americans in Chicago. The Packinghouse Workers endorsed Mayor
Daley’s appeal to Eisenhower but pointed out that “Emmett Till was
hardly less safe in Greenwood, Mississippi than he would have been in

Trumbull Park, Chicago,” where racial clashes over housing
continued.45 If some in the North, Daley first among them, could be
accused of protesting white supremacy in the South and protecting it
in the North, many in Chicago were coming to understand full well
that the battles fought in the North and in the South were all part of
the same war. “We have our own Mississippi only 20 minutes away
from here,” declared Abner Willoughby, one of the main organizers of
protests at Trumbull Park.46

If the protest politics around the Till case brought neither justice
nor clarity, they brought together many elements that would soon
anchor the civil rights movement. What happened to Emmett Till in
Mississippi had helped galvanize what was now a national movement.
Whatever their other differences, the Till case joined activists north
and south in a common struggle, giving those in Chicago, Detroit,
New York, and other Northern cities a stake in the racial politics of a
distant region. It united and pulled into the movement black labor
unions and integrated unions like the UPWA that were rapidly
becoming “civil rights unions,” whether or not all of the white
members agreed with integration. The fragmented American left made
common cause in the Till case. Many religious organizations became
players in the effort to support the movement. The bitter realities of
Emmett Till’s lynching and the acquittals gave civil rights a new moral
appeal that it bears to this day. The NAACP’s labor director Herbert
Hill mused years later that even if the Till case had only helped form
“a Northern consensus about Southern racism,” that consensus was
invaluable to the growing civil rights movement in Dixie and across
the country.47



If the past is irrevocably gone, and we cannot somehow conjure it

back and see it with the omniscient eyes of God, we can nevertheless
follow wherever the fragments of evidence lead us and try to
understand what they tell us. What we know happened to Emmett Till
is cause aplenty for sorrow and anguish; the mysteries that persist
mean little or nothing for the insistent dilemmas of race in America.
Exactly what happened between Carolyn Bryant and Emmett Till at
the store will never be revealed to a certainty, probably not even to
her. What she did or didn’t do with respect to his kidnapping may
never be entirely clear. But how Mamie Bradley dug deep within
herself and inspired thousands of other Americans to move is clear
enough. From this tragedy large, diverse numbers of people organized
a movement that grew to transform a nation, not sufficiently but
certainly meaningfully. What matters most is what we have done and
will do with what we do know. We must look at the facts squarely, not
to flounder in a bitter nostalgia of pain but to redeem a democratic
promise rooted in the living ingredients of our own history. The
bloody and unjust arc of our history will not bend upward if we
merely pretend that history did not happen here. We cannot transcend
our past without confronting it. As Du Bois wrote in 1912, “This
country has had its appetite for facts on the Negro question spoiled by

So, the facts: Emmett Till’s executioners’ ghastly errand began at an
undisclosed location that could have been as far away as J. W. Milam’s

store in Glendora, thirty miles distant. J.W., Roy Bryant, their brother-
in-law Melvin Campbell, and a friend, probably Hubert Clark, were
playing cards and drinking hard when the subject of what J.W. called
the “smart talk” and whistling incident between Carolyn and “the
Chicago boy” came up. Two black men who worked for J.W., Henry
Lee Loggins and Levi “Too Tight” Collins, were likely present, though
not part of the card game. The white men agreed that this affront at
Bryant’s Grocery could not go unavenged. They decided to go get the
boy. According to some accounts, J.W. borrowed Clark’s old car
because his brand-new two-toned Chevrolet pickup would be too
recognizable.2 It is possible that Carolyn went to the Wright house
with them and identified Emmett before they kidnapped him, so they
may have stopped at Bryant’s Grocery to pick up Carolyn on the way.
Or she may have remained at the store and either identified him there
or refused to do so when they came back with Emmett. Although her
accounts of this night have been inconsistent over the years, she has
always maintained that she told her husband the boy they brought to
the store for her to identify was not Emmett Till. Whether or not she
actually identified the boy is merely a matter of speculation; I have
found no way to prove or disprove it. The preponderance of evidence
does tell us that almost from the moment of the incident between her
and Emmett at the store on August 24, she was frightened of its
escalating consequences and probably sought to avoid them.

After they kidnapped Emmett, and whatever may have happened at
Bryant’s Grocery that night, the white men hauled the black teenager
with them to the place where they had been drinking. Present were
J.W., Roy, Campbell, and Clark or perhaps Elmer Kimbell. Some
combination of black men who worked for J.W.—possibly Loggins,
Collins, Otha “Oso” Johnson, and Joe Willie Hubbard, perhaps only
one or two of them—rode in the back of the truck with Emmett. Back
at their clandestine watering hole, the white men beat and berated
Emmett for as much as an hour. He was neither dead nor unconscious
when they decided to take the boy to a hundred-foot bluff overlooking
the Mississippi River near Rosedale, a place J.W. knew about, perhaps
to scare him, though it is just as likely they intended to kill him there
and dump him in the river. The men piled into J.W.’s truck for the

hour-long drive to Rosedale. The four white men rode in the large cab.
One or more of the black men stayed in the bed of the truck to keep
Emmett from fleeing.

By some accounts Collins was alone with Emmett in the back and
had a hard time controlling the boy, so they stopped at a juke joint in
Glendora and picked up some of the other men who worked for J.W.:
Hubbard, Loggins, and perhaps Johnson. At this distance in time the
role of the black men is a little hard to fathom. They could have had
few illusions about the fate of the boy they were restraining. Their
behavior may reflect their terror of and utter subservience to J.W.; they
would have known that their objections to the boy’s fate would carry
no weight and that the white men could kill them with impunity at
any point. There was room in the Mississippi or the Tallahatchie for
their bodies, too. An African American’s testimony in a court of law
was all but useless in 1950s Mississippi, and they were unlikely to
report the crime to Sheriff Strider. It is also possible that these black
men suffered from an internalized white supremacy so deep that they
virtually never questioned the prerogatives of white men; their world
was certainly constructed to make it so. Suffice it to say that at every
juncture the white men were calling the shots.

White men in the front, black men in the back, they drove around
for some time, looking for J.W.’s proposed spot on the Mississippi, but
failed to locate it for an hour or more. The drunken white men then
turned the truck toward the farm that Leslie Milam managed, “tryin’
to make our minds up,” Roy told an interviewer, about what to do
with the boy. There was a large equipment shed at the place where
they could continue to torture him and perhaps decide his fate. It may
not have been a foregone conclusion, at least not among all of them,
that they would kill him when they got there. The truck rumbled onto
the farm soon after sunrise. Leslie Milam was not happy to see them,
in part because he had work to do that day, but he agreed to let them
use the shed and then joined them there.3

Once inside the large equipment shed the men grabbed Emmett off
the truck and began to beat him again, this time with shattering force.
Most of the blows were to the boy’s head, their principal weapons the
large-caliber pistols they carried. J.W. wore on his belt a heavy Ithaca-

brand, U.S. Army–issued .45 semi-automatic, a hunk of steel that
weighed 2.7 pounds, heavier than most carpenter’s hammers, and Roy
carried a similar pistol. It is likely that one or more of the men used
tools found in the shed; observers described wounds to the left side of
Emmett’s face that seemed to have been made with a heavy blade.

While no one outside the shed saw what happened inside, several
witnesses heard it. Willie Reed was awakened by his grandfather Add
Reed at dawn and sent walking to the store. Passing near the barn,
Reed first saw the four white men in the cab of the truck and three
black men and a boy in the back. Cutting across the field, he heard the
brutal sounds of a beating and agonized cries for mercy. As he came
closer to the barn, a big bald-headed man emerged and walked to the
nearby well for a drink of water. Reed later identified the man as J. W.
Milam. “He had on a pistol. He had it on his belt.” J.W. stepped
quickly back into the shed. According to T. R. M. Howard, Reed told
him that he heard the frightened boy crying from the barn, “Mama,
please save me,” and “Please, God, don’t do it again.” Reed testified in
court, “I heard somebody hollering and I heard some licks like
somebody was whipping somebody.” As to the number of blows:
“There was a whole lot of them.” The intense screams finally faded to
whimpers, then stopped altogether. Add Reed and Mandy Bradley, a
neighbor who lived close by, supported Willie Reed’s account of

The merciless ferocity of the assault may be proven by the injuries
to Emmett Till’s body. Initially Emmett tried to fend off the blows
with his hands and arms, but soon he was unable to do so. Both of his
wrists were broken in the effort to defend himself. Vicious blows
crushed in the whole crown of his head; similar strokes smashed the
back of his skull so that pieces of it would fall off as the law
enforcement officers pulled him from the river. Surprisingly, given
Mamie Bradley’s description of his smashed teeth, only one of his
teeth was missing; nor was he castrated, as some other accounts
allege. His assailants managed to fracture his thigh bone, the largest
and strongest bone in the body, which suggests they stomped on him
with enormous and repeated force or beat him with something much
heavier than a pistol. Deputy Sheriff John Ed Cothran testified that

“his left eye was about out, it was all gouged out in there.” Part of one
ear was missing, which could have meant someone tortured him with
a knife or shears. A farm equipment shed likely offered a number of
choices for implements to inflict pain and cause death. The injuries to
his head almost certainly would have killed him, but the immediate
cause of death was a gunshot wound above his right ear.5

Amid all informed speculation, there is this fact: it takes from five
hundred to one thousand pounds of force to crack a human skull. No
one exerts that level of force on a fourteen-year-old’s head without
willingness to kill. When Carolyn Bryant says Emmett Till didn’t
deserve what happened to him, this—delivering hundreds of pounds
of force at impact, over and over again—is part of “what happened to
him,” in addition to the other unspeakable tortures that went on in
that barn.6 Clipped ear. Broken bones. Gouged-out eye. The ruthless
attack inflicted injuries almost certain to be fatal. They reveal a
breathtaking level of savagery, a brutality that cannot be explained
without considering rabid homicidal intent or a rage utterly beyond
control. Affronted white supremacy drove every blow.

Despite the viciousness of the assault, it is not clear exactly when
the men consciously made up their minds to kill the boy. In Bryant
and Milam family lore, true or not, the story goes that at some point
Roy developed misgivings about the fatal beating. According to
Carolyn, the men told her that Roy had wanted to stop and take
Emmett’s broken body to the hospital. She said this would have meant
dumping his body in front of a medical establishment and driving
away. “Well, we done whopped the son of a bitch,” Roy told a friend
in 1985 who was wearing a hidden recording device, “and I had
backed out on killing the motherfucker.” In the end, Roy told his
friend, they decided that “carryin’ him to the hospital wouldn’t have
done him no good” and instead they would “put his ass in the
Tallahatchie River.” The proposal to take Emmett to the hospital,
Carolyn told me, violated the sensibilities of Melvin Campbell, who
muttered a curse and fired a .45-caliber bullet into Emmett’s brain.
This may have been only a final malignant gesture, given the boy’s
injuries. But certainly the gunshot brought an emphatic end to the
grisly proceedings.7

J.W. ordered the black men to clean the floor of the shed
thoroughly of blood and to spread cotton seed to cover it. After
stripping the body, J.W., Roy, and Campbell put it in the truck bed
and covered it with a tarpaulin. Either Clark or Kimbell borrowed
Leslie Milam’s car and took the black men to bury the bloody
clothing. J.W., Roy, and Campbell, perhaps taking barbed wire from
the shed and a heavy gin fan from a nearby building, drove ten miles
across the county line to the Tallahatchie River, lashed the fan around
his neck with the wire, and rolled the body into deep water.8

A young black man and his father reported walking past J.W.’s
store in Glendora that Sunday morning and seeing J.W.’s new truck
parked next to the building. A tarpaulin covered the bed, but blood
had pooled on the ground. Johnson and Collins stood guard, one with
his foot on the tarp and the other standing by the truck. The young
man recalled that when J.W. came out of the store and his father
commented on the blood, J.W. replied that he had killed a deer. When
the father pointed out that it was not deer season, J.W. pulled him
over to the truck, yanked back the tarpaulin, and said, “This is what
happens to smart niggers.” Speechless, the father turned, grabbed his
son by the shoulder, pulled him toward home, and never told his son
what he had seen, whether an enormous amount of blood or the
corpse itself. One of the main routes from Leslie Milam’s farm to the
Tallahatchie River runs through Glendora, and the men might have
stopped at the store on their way to dump Emmett’s body.9

These are the facts. But we are obliged to go beyond the facts of the
lynching and grapple with its meaning. If we refuse to look beneath
the surface, we can simply blame some Southern white peckerwoods
and a bottle of corn whiskey. We can lay the responsibility for Emmett
Till’s terrible fate on the redneck monsters of the South and
congratulate ourselves for not being one of them. We can also place,
and over the decades many of us have placed, some percentage of the
blame on Emmett, who should have known better, should have
watched himself, policed his thoughts and deeds, gone more quietly
through the Delta that summer. Had he only done so, he would have
found his way back to Chicago unharmed. That we blame the
murderous pack is not the problem; even the idea that we can blame

the black boy is not so much the problem, though it carries with it
several absurdities. The problem is why we blame them. We blame
them to avoid seeing that the lynching of Emmett Till was caused by
the nature and history of America itself and by a social system that
has changed over the decades, but not as much as we pretend.

In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. writes
that his worst enemies are not the members of Citizens’ Councils or
the Ku Klux Klan but “the white moderate” who claims to support
the goals of the movement but deplores its methods of protest and
deprecates its timetable for change: “We will have to repent in this
generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad
people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”10

When we blame those who brought about the brutal murder of
Emmett Till, we have to count President Eisenhower, who did not
consider the national honor at stake when white Southerners
prevented African Americans from voting; who would not enforce the
edicts of the highest court in the land, telling Chief Justice Earl
Warren, “All [opponents of desegregation] are concerned about is to
see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in schools
alongside some big, overgrown Negroes.”11 We must count Attorney
General Herbert Brownell Jr., who demurred that the federal
government had no jurisdiction in the political assassinations of
George Lee and Lamar Smith that summer, thus not only preventing
African Americans from voting but also enabling Milam and Bryant to
feel confident that they could murder a fourteen-year-old boy with
impunity. Brownell, a creature of politics, likewise refused to intervene
in the Till case. We must count the politicians who ran for office in
Mississippi thumping the podium for segregation and whipping
crowds into a frenzy about the terrifying prospects of school
desegregation and black voting. This goes double for the Citizens’
Councils, which deliberately created an environment in which they
knew white terrorism was inevitable. We must count the jurors and
the editors who provided cover for Milam, Bryant, and the rest.
Above all, we have to count the millions of citizens of all colors and in
all regions who knew about the rampant racial injustice in America
and did nothing to end it. The black novelist Chester Himes wrote a

letter to the editor of the New York Post the day he heard the news of
Milam’s and Bryant’s acquittals: “The real horror comes when your
dead brain must face the fact that we as a nation don’t want it to stop.
If we wanted to, we would.”12

Emmett Till’s death was an extreme example of the logic of
America’s national racial caste system. To look beneath the surface of
these facts is to ask ourselves what our relationship is today to the
legacies of that caste system—legacies that still end the lives of young
African Americans for no reason other than the color of their
American skin and the content of our national character. Recall that
Faulkner, asked to comment on the Till case when he was sober,
responded, “If we in America have reached the point in our desperate
culture where we must murder children, no matter for what reason or
what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t.”13 Ask
yourself whether America’s predicament is really so different now.



Emmett Till is dead. I don’t know why he can’t just stay dead.

—ROY BRYANT, quoted in Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson,
Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America

The struggle of humanity against power is always the struggle of memory
against forgetting.

—MILAN KUNDERA, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

“I am sure you read of the lynch-murder of young Emmett Till of

Chicago,” Rosa Parks wrote to a friend soon after these notorious
events. “This case could be multiplied many times in the South, not
only Miss., but Ala, Georgia, Fla.”1 A month after the acquittals Parks
joined an overflow crowd at Martin Luther King’s Dexter Avenue
Baptist Church in Montgomery to hear Dr. T. R. M. Howard speak on
the Till case. Dr. King introduced the fiery physician from Mound
Bayou, who spoke passionately about the assassinations of George Lee
and Lamar Smith and told the story of Emmett Till in riveting detail.2

Parks had read about the lynching and wept at the gruesome
photograph in Jet, but Howard’s story was a powerful firsthand
account. His speech moved her deeply and preoccupied her for days.
Only four days later Parks defied the segregation laws on a
Montgomery city bus. The driver insisted that she move. Thinking of
Emmett Till, she said, Parks refused to do so. Her subsequent arrest
provided the occasion for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.3

The impact of the Till lynching resonated across America for years,
touching virtually everyone who heard it, but the case had its most
profound effect on a generation of African Americans two decades

younger than Parks. Folks of all ages discussed the Till case in
barbershops, churches, and living rooms north and south. For black
youth across the country, however, the Till lynching became a decisive
moment in the development of their consciousness around race. “The
murder just shocked me,” recalled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a legendary
star in the NBA and later an accomplished author. “I began thinking
of myself as a black person for the first time, not just a person.”
Muhammad Ali recalled the effect of Till’s death on him: “I realized
that this could just as easily have been a story about me or my
brother.” Indianapolis’s Richard Hatcher, the first African American
elected mayor of a major U.S. city, said the killing made him “very
bitter and angry towards white people. That’s how I felt at that
particular time.”4 A woman who grew up in Chicago and Hattiesburg,
Mississippi, and later became a civil rights activist remembered, “The
first time I was really confronted with this black-white issue was with
Emmett Till. That really slapped me in the face.”5

Joyce Ladner, a Mississippi native who became a renowned activist
with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), called
herself and the other young blacks who grew up in the 1950s “the
Emmett Till generation.”6 Charles McDew, eventually chair of SNCC,
said that all the young people in the movement “knew where they
were when they saw the pictures of Emmett Till’s body.”7 For Julian
Bond, who worked with SNCC and later became chair of the national
board of the NAACP, the Till case was one of the key events that
“provided stepping stones leading inexorably toward my involvement
in the freedom struggle.” He was “moved along the path to later
activism by the graphic pictures that appeared in Jet magazine of
Emmett Till’s swollen and misshapen body.”8 Fay Bellamy Powell,
who later worked with SNCC, was horrified at the coverage of the Till
case and yet steeled for the struggles to come: “My spirit allowed me a
glimpse of the future, saying, ‘Don’t worry about this. You will have
an opportunity to address this madness. You will assist in showing the
world the face of this evil.’ ”9

With style and daring, “the Emmett Till generation” showed the
world a great deal when they launched the sit-ins that swept across the
South in the spring of 1960. Four freshmen at North Carolina A&T

walked into the Greensboro Woolworth’s department store on
Monday, February 1, bought a number of personal items, then sat at
the segregated lunch counter and asked to be served. The four
remained for almost an hour, until the lunch counter closed. On
Tuesday twenty-five men and four women, all students at A&T,
occupied the lunch counter. On Wednesday sixty-three students
participated, joined in the afternoon by three white students from
Greensboro College. On Thursday hundreds more black students
became involved. By the end of the week students in other cities and
towns in North Carolina—Raleigh, Charlotte, Fayetteville, High
Point, Concord, and Elizabeth City—sat in at segregated lunch
counters. By the end of the month young people across the South were
organizing sit-ins. Within two months the demonstrations had spread
to fifty-four cities in nine states; within a year more than a hundred
cities witnessed similar protests. A new, mass-based phase of the civil
rights movement, a distinctive radicalism rooted in nonviolent direct
action, had begun.10 Driving it were young people, many of whom
had been inspired to action by the story of a boy their age lynched in

Six decades later a white police officer shot and killed a young
black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The local
grand jury’s decision not to prosecute the officer expanded and
enraged a national movement born of similar killings, and young
protestors throughout the United States chanted, “Say his name!
Emmett Till! Say his name! Emmett Till!” His name, invoked
alongside a litany of the names of unarmed black men and women
who died at the hands of police officers, remained a symbol of the
destructiveness of white supremacy. Hundreds of young people
thronged the fence in front of the White House, chanting, “How many
black kids will you kill? Michael Brown, Emmett Till!” Black Lives
Matter—a movement, not just a hashtag—quickly became symbolic
shorthand for the struggle. Much like the Emmett Till protests of the
1950s, these demonstrations raged from coast to coast and fueled
scores of local campaigns. Police brutality against men and women of
color provided the most urgent grievance but represented a range of
festering racial problems: the criminalization of black bodies; the

militarization of law enforcement; mass incarceration; racial injustice
in the judicial system; the chasms of inequality between black and
white and rich and poor; racial disparities in virtually every measure
of well-being, from employment and education to health care. Such
moments could make movements, wrote the political scientist
Frederick Harris in the Washington Post, and become “like the murder
of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 . . . transformative episodes that
remake perceptions and force a society to abandon abhorrent

On November 17, 2014, as these protests spread across the
country, a former chair of SNCC stood in the rain on the grounds of
the U.S. Capitol with a shovel. In an orchard of umbrellas
Representative John Lewis helped plant an American sycamore in
honor of a fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago who was murdered
almost sixty years earlier. In his 1998 memoir, Lewis writes that when
he was fifteen, “and at the edge of my own manhood just like him,”
he had been “shaken to the core” by the lynching of Emmett Till.12

Among those wielding shovels with Lewis were both U.S. senators
from Mississippi and Eric Holder, the first African American U.S.
attorney general.

“Even today, the pain from this unspeakable crime, this
unspeakable tragedy, still feels raw,” Holder declared, but the tree
would become Emmett Till’s “living memorial, here at the heart of our
Republic, in the shadow of the United States Capitol.” Till perished
senselessly and far too soon, the attorney general said, but “it can
never be said that he died in vain. His tragic murder galvanized
millions to action.”13 After Holder spoke, reporters asked him about
the relationship between Emmett Till and the contemporary racial
conflagrations in Ferguson and elsewhere. “The struggle goes on,”
replied Holder. “There is an enduring legacy that Emmett Till has left
us with that we still have to confront as a nation.”14

Decades after his death Emmett continues to be a national
metaphor for our racial nightmares. And difficult though it is to bear,
his story can leave us reaching for our better angels and moving
toward higher ground. By suffering comes wisdom, the ancient Greeks
tell us, and Mamie Bradley’s decision to take history in her hands and

help build a movement distills that harder wisdom and leaves it in our
own. “The struggle of humanity against power,” writes Milan
Kundera, “is always the struggle of memory against forgetting.”15

•  •  •

America is still killing Emmett Till, and often for the same reasons
that drove the violent segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s. Yes,
many things have changed; the kind of violence that snatched Till’s life
strikes only rarely. A white supremacist gunman slaughtering nine
black churchgoers in a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina,
in 2014, however, reminds us that the ideology of white supremacy
remains with us in its most brutal and overt forms. “You rape our
women and you’re taking over our country,” the murderer said as he
fired round after round into his African American victims. He could
have been quoting Judge Thomas Brady’s 1954 Black Monday or a
Reconstruction-era political pamphlet. White America’s heritage of
imagining blacks as fierce criminals, intent on political and sexual
domination, as threatening bodies to be monitored and controlled, has
never disappeared. These delusions have played a compelling and
bloody role for centuries. The historian Stephen Kantrowitz writes
that the murders in Charleston are “an expression and a consequence
of American history—a history that the nation has hardly reckoned
with, much less overcome.”16

Evidence that the past is still with us is abundant. Racial hatred
drove a group of suburban white teenagers to beat and murder James
Craig Anderson, a black man selected at random in Jackson,
Mississippi, on June 26, 2011. One teenager yelled “White power” as
he returned from the assault, and several of the others shouted racial
epithets. Federal and state courts charged ten of the youths with the
murder and with a series of similar attacks over a period of months.
The judges sentenced one of them to two life terms and the others to
terms ranging from eighteen and a half months to four years.17

Denying that such violence is common, the Hinds County district
attorney said in 2011, “I do think because of the political and
economic structure and the re-engineering of society, it appears that

certain parts of the country and Mississippi feel their culture is under

Certainly politics in the United States in the first two decades of the
twenty-first century reflect, as the nominal gains of the civil rights
movement continue to make their claims on our society—most
notably the election of America’s first African American president—
that many white citizens feel that something has been and is being
taken from them. Nearly forty years of stagnating wages and growing
inequality have done nothing to ease their anxieties. Many, too, are
afraid and seek to build walls rather than bridges between our
increasingly divided nations, separate, unequal, and often hostile;
immigration has rendered our predicaments increasingly complex—
and, for many, more frightening. Most African American children
grow up in a world far more impoverished, bleak, and confined than
their white counterparts. Their families fall behind white families in
virtually every measure of well-being: wealth and income levels,
wages, unemployment rates, health and mortality figures, levels of
incarceration, and crime victimization rates. And their often lethally
divergent experiences with law enforcement only mirror what Maya
Angelou calls “These Yet to Be United States.”19

America is still killing Emmett Till, but often by means less direct
than bludgeons and bullets. The most successful killers of African
American youth are poverty, resegregated and neglected public
schools, gang violence, and lack of economic opportunities. Violence
and exploitation against black women scar whole communities, and
mothers still bear the burden of burying black sons. In many inner
cities the drug trade is the only enterprise that is hiring, while the
national unemployment rate for young black men is well over twice
that for other young men. The so-called war on drugs successfully
targets young African American men, even though blacks and whites
use and sell illicit drugs at roughly the same rate. The enormous
incarcerated and judicially supervised population of the United States
has become disproportionately a population of color. Writes Ta-Nehisi
Coates, “A society that protects some people through a system of
schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can

only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at
enforcing its intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.”20

African American males experience the highest imprisonment rate
of all demographic groups. In Washington, D.C., the country’s capital,
roughly 75 percent of young black men can anticipate serving time in
prison, and the percentage is still higher in the city’s poorest
neighborhoods. The criminal justice system in some states imprisons
black men on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times higher than
those of white men. In major cities where the drug war rages, as many
as 80 percent of young black men have criminal records and thus can
be legally discriminated against in housing, employment, and often
voting for the rest of their lives. These statistics reflect the emergence
of a new racial caste system, born from the one that killed Emmett
Till.21 “While the blame for the grisly mutilation of Till has been
placed upon two cruel men,” Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1958,
“the ultimate responsibility for [the Till lynching] and other tragic
events must rest with the American people themselves.”22

We are still killing black youth because we have not yet killed white
supremacy. As a political program white supremacy avers that white
people have a right to rule. That is obviously morally unacceptable,
and few of its devotees will speak its name. But that enfeebled faith is
not nearly so insidious and lethal as its robust, covert, and often
unconscious cousin: the assumption that God has created humanity in
a hierarchy of moral, cultural, and intellectual worth, with lighter-
skinned people at the top and darker-skinned people at the bottom.
Unfortunately this poisonous notion is as dangerous in the minds of
people of color as it is in the minds of whites. “The glorification of
one race and the consequent debasement of another—or others—
always has been and always will be a recipe for murder,” writes James
Baldwin.23 It also remains a recipe for toxic self-hatred.

The ancient lie remains lethal. It shoots first and dodges questions
later. White supremacy leaves almost half of all African American
children growing up in poverty in a de-industrialized urban wasteland.
It abandons the moral and practical truth embodied in Brown v.
Board of Education and accepts school resegregation even though it is
poisonous to the poor. Internalized white supremacy in the minds of

black youth guns down other black youth, who learn from media
images of themselves that their lives are worth little enough to pour
out in battles over street corners. White supremacy also trembles the
hands of some law enforcement officers and vigilantes who seem
unable to distinguish between genuine danger and centuries-old

To see beyond the ghosts, all of us must develop the moral vision
and political will to crush white supremacy—both the political
program and the concealed assumptions. We have to come to grips
with our own history—not only genocide, slavery, exploitation, and
systems of oppression, but also the legacies of those who resisted and
fought back and still fight back. We must find what Dr. King called the
“strength to love.” New social movements must confront head-on the
racial chasm in American life. “Not everything that is faced can be
changed,” Baldwin instructs, “but nothing can be changed until it is

Our strivings will unfold in a fallen world, among imperfect people
who have inherited a deeply tragic history. There will be no guarantee
of success. But we have guiding spirits who still walk among us. We
have the courtroom of historical memory, where Reverend Moses
Wright still stands and says, “There he is.” We have the boundless
moral landscape where Mamie Bradley still shakes the earth with her
candor and courage. We have the bold voices of the Black Lives
Matter movement, demanding justice now and reminding us to
remember Emmett Till, to say his name. We have the enduring
NAACP and the interracial “Moral Mondays” coalition spreading out
of North Carolina, like the sit-ins once did, and dozens of other
similar crusades across the country.25 We can still hear the marching
feet of millions in the streets of America, all of them belonging to the
children of Emmett Till.


In the dark mines of this story, I was grateful that I never worked
alone. My first debts are to David Cecelski, William H. Chafe, Steve
Kantrowitz, and Craig Werner, unwavering friends and brilliant
editors who lived with this book for years. Likewise, historians John
Dittmer, Danielle McGuire, Lane Windham, Curtis Austin,
Christopher Metress, David Beito, and Jane Dailey all offered vital
comments. The brilliant Evan Lewis gave me priceless help and
friendship, as did her parents, Ken Lewis and Holly Ewell-Lewis.

Other scholars and writers—Dan Carter, Will Jones, Kevin Kruse,
Charles McKinney, Jerry Mitchell, Adriane Lentz-Smith, and Jason
Morgan Ward—all offered crucial aid.

My research assistant, Melody Ivins, helped dredge up and digest
much of this story and offered years of constant encouragement. She
and Wilmarie Cintron-Muniz, Michael Grathwohl, Sam Tyson, and
Vernon Tyson helped ransack the Mississippi archives, as did Simon
Balto and Amanda Klonsky in the Chicago Public Library.

I am thankful to my colleagues at the Center for Documentary
Studies at Duke University. Wesley Hogan sat with me by the cornfield
and shared her brilliant insights. Tom Rankin taught me how to cook
a pig and escorted me to the ruins of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat
Market. Mike Wiley’s Dar He, a dramatic rendition of the Emmett
Till story, fired my imagination, particularly when I watched him
perform it at a refurbished tractor dealership not far from where
Emmett Till died. Mary D. Williams inspired, comforted, and carried
me in our public work and personal friendship. Jennifer Dixon-
McKnight, Theo Luebke, Will Griffin, and Sarah Rogers kept our
classes on track so that I could remain preoccupied with Emmett Till.

Other friends also kept me in my right mind. I am grateful to Rev.
Dr. William J. Barber, II; Herman Bennett; Nick Biddle; Sam Bridges;
Vera Cecelski; Lorna Chafe; Katherine Charron; Louise and Steve
Coggins; Jim Conway; Mary Ellen Curtin; Suzanne Desan; Kirsten
Fischer; Barbara Forrest; Christina Greene; Laura Hanson; Pernille
Ipsen; Rhonda Lee; Eddie McCoy; Lettie McCoy; Al McSurely;
Jennifer Morgan; Leslee Nelson; Drew Ross; Rob Stephens; Doug
Tanner; and Gayle Weitz.

My parents, Vernon and Martha Tyson, have been my bright and
morning stars, as have sisters Boo, Julie, and Lori. The Morgans of
Corapeake have inspired, comforted, and endured me for decades.
Special thanks to Susan Evans for the author photograph. My brother,
Vern Tyson, sets a fine example of how to embrace life even when it
cuts you, and to him this book is dedicated with love.

I am grateful to the folks at Simon & Schuster, including my fine
editor, Priscilla Painter, and also Sophia Jimenez, Megan Hogan, and
Amanda Lang as well as copyeditors Navorn Johnson and Judith
Hoover. Thomas LeBien gave matchless guidance and friendship at
every stage. I wish I could write a hundred more books for my
brilliant agent, Charlotte Sheedy, who has been a steadfast warrior
and a stalwart friend.

My family is the heart of whatever I accomplish. My daughter,
Hope, shines in my heart and in the world, becoming more compelling
and clear-eyed with every passing year. And I can only admire my son,
Sam, for the way he carries himself and others, building friendships,
furniture, songs, and communities with equal facility. I love them both
dearly. Their mother, Perri Morgan, is the pearl beyond price. Her love
is not just something she feels but something she does, and I am
beyond lucky to enjoy it. I am grateful to her for helping to give me
this wonderful life, precious and all too short, which I hope to enjoy
at her side for many more years.



TIMOTHY B. TYSON is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for

Documentary Studies at Duke University and Visiting Professor of
American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School.
He also holds a position in the American Studies Department at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He taught in the Afro-
American Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin–
Madison from 1994 until 2004. His book Blood Done Sign My Name
was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award and
won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the Grawemeyer Award
from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the
Christopher Award. It became a feature film in 2010. His 1999 Radio
Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power won the
James A. Rawley Prize and the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize from
the Organization of American Historians. Tyson is the coeditor with
David Cecelski of Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of
1898 and Its Legacy, which won the 1999 Outstanding Book Award

from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human
Rights. He is a North Carolina native, a graduate of Emory University,
and received his PhD from Duke University in 1994. He serves on the
executive board of the North Carolina NAACP and the advisory
board of the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights.







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1 : N O T H I N G T H AT B O Y D I D

1  Carolyn Bryant Donham, interview by the author, Raleigh, NC, September 8, 2008;
accompanying handwritten notes by the author, Timothy B. Tyson Papers, Southern
Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, closed until 2038 by
her request (hereafter Bryant, interview). Unless otherwise specified, all Carolyn Bryant
quotations are from this interview.

2 Quoted in “L’affaire Till in the French Press,” Crisis, December 1955, 601.
3 Interview with William Bradford Huie, by Blackside, Inc., August 1979, for Eyes on the

Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954–1975), Washington University Libraries, Film
and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection, accessed March 31, 2016,
c=eop;cc=eop;rgn=main;view=text;idno=hui0015.1034.050 (hereafter Huie interview).

4 Timothy B. Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name (New York: Crown, 2004).
5  William Bradford Huie, “Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,” Look,

January 24, 1956; Bob Ward, “William Bradford Huie Paid for Their Sins,” Writer’s
Digest, September 1974, 16–22.

6 Devery S. Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the
Civil Rights Movement (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015), 324–25.

7  Carolyn Bryant testimony, State of Mississippi vs. J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, In the
Circuit Court Second District of Tallahatchie County, Seventeenth Judicial District, State
of Mississippi, September Term, 1955, transcript (hereafter trial transcript), 268–72.

8 “Still Heaping Criticism on Mississippi,” Greenwood Morning Star, November 6, 1955.
9 Carolyn Bryant testimony, trial transcript, 272–74.

10  Dan Wakefield, “Justice in Sumner,” Nation, October 1, 1955, in Christopher Metress,
ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative (Charlottesville: University
of Virginia Press, 2002), 120–24.

11  U.S. State Department, Treatment of Minorities in the United States: Impact on Our
Foreign Relations, Part A: A Summary Review, RG 59 811.411/4-1956, box 4158,
National Archives.

12 See, for example, Clenora Hudson-Weems, Emmett Till: The Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil
Rights Movement (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006). See also Anderson, Emmett

13 Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate
Crime That Changed America (New York: One World/Ballantine, 2004).

14 Carolyn Bryant Donham with Marsha Bryant, “More than a Wolf Whistle: The Story of
Carolyn Bryant Donham,” unpublished memoir, Timothy B. Tyson Papers, Southern

Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, closed until 2038 by
her request (hereafter Bryant, “Wolf Whistle”).

15  Attorneys’ notes of interview with Carolyn Bryant, August 30, 1955. Thanks to Jerry
Mitchell at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger for sharing this document.

2 : B O O T S O N T H E P O R C H

1 Although many sources refer to Reverend Wright as “Mose,” Wright’s son Simeon reveals
that his proper name was Moses and that “Mose” was a nickname. Therefore I have used
“Moses” throughout except in quotations. Simeon Wright with Herb Boyd, Simeon’s
Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till (Chicago: Lawrence Hill
Books, 2010), dedication, 15.

2 Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1955; Wright, Simeon’s Story, 32.
3  Robert Denley, “Kinsman Recalls Tragic Night on Eve of Trial,” Chicago Defender,

September 24, 1955; Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 46; Wright, Simeon’s Story,
25–36, 55.

4  “Kin Tell How Murdered Boy Was Abducted,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 3,
1955. For Elizabeth Wright’s intention to wake Emmett and slip him out the back door,
see also “Newspapers Over State Blast Murder of Negro,” Jackson Daily News,
September 3, 1955.

5 Wright, Simeon’s Story, 55–60.
6 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 39.
7 Wright, Simeon’s Story, 55, 57.
8  Denley, “Kinsman Recalls Tragic Night on the Eve of Trial.” Moses Wright testified in

court that Emmett was in the bed with Simeon. Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript,

9 Wright, Simeon’s Story, 37–39, 56.
10 Paul Holmes, “Uncle Tells How Kidnapers Invaded Home and Seized Till,” Chicago Daily

Tribune, September 19, 1955.
11 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 12; Denley, “Kinsman Recalls Tragic Night on

Eve of Trial.”
12 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 36; Denley, “Kinsman Recalls Tragic Night on

Eve of Trial.”
13 Federal Bureau of Investigation Prosecutive Report Concerning __________, 87 (hereafter

FBI Report),
iew, accessed June 21, 2016. Crosby Smith reported that Milam and Bryant were “plenty
drunk.” See David A. Shoshtak, “Crosby Smith: Forgotten Witness to a Mississippi
Nightmare,” Negro History Bulletin, December 1974, 322.

14 Holmes, “Uncle Tells How Kidnapers Invaded Home and Seized Till.”
15 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 38. See also FBI Report, 53.
16 Anderson, Emmett Till, 370, conjectures that the group that kidnapped Till comprised of

J. W. Milam, Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant, and Henry Lee Loggins. It is impossible to say
with certainty.

17 Amos Dixon, “Milam Master-Minded Emmett Till Killing,” California Eagle, February 2,
1956; Denley, “Kinsman Recalls Tragic Night on Eve of Trial.”

18  Quoted in Stanley Nelson, producer and director, The Murder of Emmett Till, 2003,
American Experience, PBS, transcript, accessed April 1, 2016,

19 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 34–35.
20 “Events Night of Kidnaping Told by Slain Boy’s Cousin,” Jackson Daily News, September

1, 1955.
21  “Kin Tell How Murdered Boy Was Abducted,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 3,

22  Lea Thomas, “The Day That Emmett Died,” Jackson Free Press, November 30, 2005;

Anderson, Emmett Till, 36–37. See also “Newspapers over State Blast Murder of Negro.”
23 “Slain Boy’s Kinfolk Tell of Begging White Men to Let Him Off with Whipping,” Jackson

Daily News, September 3, 1955; Dixon, “Milam Master-Minded Emmett Till Killing.”
24 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 19.
25 Denley, “Kinsman Recalls Tragic Night on Eve of Trial.” Reverend Wright acknowledged

in court that he could not see whether the vehicle was a car or a pickup truck. See James
Featherston, “Slain Boy’s Uncle Points Finger at Bryant, Milam, But Admits Light Was
Dim,” Jackson Daily News, September 21, 1955. Stephen Whitfield claims that Wright
“saw a fourth person [in the car], a woman (presumably Carolyn Bryant).” But Wright
made no such claim in court or elsewhere, explaining that he could not see the people in
the vehicle. Whitfield cites “ ‘Murder,’ White Says, Promises Prosecution,” Chicago
Defender, September 10, 1955, but the article contains no such claim. See Stephen J.
Whitfield, A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1988), 55, 160n13. For the vehicle pulling away without headlights and
Wright unable to see it, see Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 46–48.

3 : G R O W I N G U P B L A C K I N C H I C A G O

1 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 98–99. It is not clear whether Wright was
still an active minister at the church in East Money. He may or may not have retired but
still attended, and it stands to reason that he would preach at least occasionally.

2  Olive Arnold Adams, “Time Bomb: Mississippi Exposed and the Full Story of Emmett
Till,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 213–24.

3 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 98–100. Throughout the book, I call the
boy “Emmett” in order to paint him as a sympathetic human being, someone with whom
we become fairly intimate in the course of things, and someone who has typically been
portrayed as an icon rather than a person. I do the same with his mother and also with
Carolyn Bryant, and for the same reasons. No disrespect is intended.

4 Carl Hirsch, “This Was Emmett Louis Till,” Daily Worker, October 9, 1955.
5  Chicago Demographics in 1950 map, http://www.bing.com/images/search?

_1950_map.jpg&FORM=IGRE, accessed June 21, 2016.

6 Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, American Pharaoh: Richard J. Daley: His Battle for
Chicago and the Nation (New York: Little, Brown, 2000), 16–18, 29.

7 Hirsch, “This Was Emmett Louis Till.”
8 Rick Swaine, The Integration of Major League Baseball, reprint edition (Jefferson, NC:

McFarland, 2012), 34–43.

9 “Untold Story,” Chicago Daily Defender, March 5, 1956; Till-Mobley and Benson, Death
of Innocence, 71–72.

10  Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great
Migration (New York: Random House, 2010), 9, 268, 352. The definitive work for black
Southern migration to Chicago is James Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black
Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

11 Beryl Satter, Family Properties: How the Struggle over Race and Real Estate Transformed
Chicago and Urban America (New York: Picador, 2010), 39; Grossman, Land of Hope,

12 William Tuttle, Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (New York: Atheneum,
1970), 3–10.

13 Davarian Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black
Urban Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 7.

14  Adriane Lentz-Smith, Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

15 W. E. B. Du Bois, “Returning Soldiers,” Crisis 18 (May 1919): 13.
16 Tuttle, Race Riot, 212.
17  For Marcus Garvey, see Edmund David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus

Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1955); Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organizational
Struggle of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Dover,
MA: Majority Press, 1976); Judith Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1986); Mary G. Rollinson, Grassroots Garveyism: The
Universal Negro Improvement Association in the Rural South, 1920–1927 (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2007). See also Robert A. Hill, ed., The Marcus
Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, 11 vols. (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1983–2006; Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

18 Tuttle, Race Riot, 222–26.
19 Grossman, Land of Hope, 74–77.
20 Faith Holsaert et al., eds., Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in

SNCC (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 63.
21  Gilbert R. Mason and James Patterson Smith, Beaches, Blood, and Ballots: A Black

Doctor’s Civil Rights Struggle (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 19.
22 Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 275.
23 Craig Werner, Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the

Rise and Fall of American Soul (New York: Crown, 2004), 33.
24 Satter, Family Properties, 40–47; Werner, Higher Ground, 33.
25  Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940–1955

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 183.
26 Werner, Higher Ground, 31.
27  For a fuller examination of the Trumbull Park Homes fiasco, see Chicago, Mayor’s

Commission on Human Relations, The Trumbull Park Homes Disturbances: A
Chronological Report, August 4, 1953 to June 30, 1955, 1955; Howard Mayhew, Racial
Terror at Trumbull Park (New York: Pioneer Press, 1954). Frank London Brown,
Trumbull Park (1959; Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2005), is a novel
that conveys a sense of the experience of the black families.

28 Green, Selling the Race, 185–91; Cohen and Taylor, American Pharaoh, 1014.
29 Cohen and Taylor, American Pharaoh, 102–3, 175.

30 Green, Selling the Race, 181.
31 Cohen and Taylor, American Pharaoh, 58, 92–96, 128–29.
32 Green, Selling the Race, 181; Cohen and Taylor, American Pharaoh, 95; Werner, Higher

Ground, 32.
33 Werner, Higher Ground, 32; Cohen and Taylor, American Pharaoh, 96.
34  Cohen and Taylor, American Pharaoh, 7–12, 16, 21, 33, 45, 57–58, 125–26, 134–35,


4 : E M M E T T I N C H I C A G O A N D “ L I T T L E M I S S I S S I P P I ”

1 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 18–19, 22.
2 Ibid., 19. Neil R. McMillen, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow

(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 252, reports that large numbers of lynchings
in Mississippi went unreported in any newspaper.

3 McMillen, Dark Journey, 229–30. See also Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Revolt against Chivalry:
Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign against Lynching (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1993), 134–35.

4 Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945; New York: Harper Perennial, 1993), 172.
5 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 19.
6 Ibid., 3.
7 Gerald V. Stokes, A White Hat in Argo: Family Secrets (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2004),

8 Ibid., 86–87.
9 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 23.

10  Ibid., 21; E. Franklin Frazier, “The Negro Family in Chicago,” PhD diss., University of
Chicago, 1932.

11 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 18, 21.
12 Stokes, A White Hat in Argo, 98.
13  “Mamie Bradley’s Untold Story,” Chicago Daily Defender, February 29, 1956; Till-

Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 3–5, 11.
14 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 11–12.
15 “Mamie Bradley’s Untold Story”; Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 3–4, 13,

16  “Mamie Bradley’s Untold Story”; Anderson, Emmett Till, 11–12; Till-Mobley and

Benson, Death of Innocence, 3–4, 13, 16–17.
17 “Mamie Bradley’s Untold Story.”
18 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 27.
19 Ibid., 38.
20 “Mamie Bradley’s Untold Story”; Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 37–39.
21 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 39.
22 Ibid., 30–31, 36.
23 Ibid., 46, 49–53.
24 Ibid., 56.
25 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 56–57.
26 Ibid., 40.
27 Wright, Simeon’s Story, 47.
28 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 81.

29  Albert Amateau, “Chelsea Woman Led Battle to End Beach Segregation in 1960,”
Villager, August 11–17, 2011. See especially Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto:
Race and Public Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1998), 63, 65.

30 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 82.
31 Whitfield, A Death in the Delta, 15.
32 Werner, Higher Ground, 68–69.
33 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 83.
34 John Barrow, “Here’s a Picture of Emmett Till by Those Who Knew Him,” Memphis Tri-

State Defender, September 24, 1955.
35 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 78.
36 “Mamie Bradley’s Untold Story,” Chicago Daily Defender, March 5, 1956.
37 Barrow, “Here’s a Picture of Emmett Till by Those Who Knew Him.”
38 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 63–64, 94; Moses Wright testimony, trial

transcript, 48.
39 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 103–4; Adams, “Time Bomb,” in Metress,

ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 213–24. The quote from Moses Wright is from Sam
Johnson, “State Will Not Ask Death Penalty in Trial of White Men at Sumner,”
Greenwood Commonwealth, September 19, 1955.

5 : P I S T O L – W H I P P I N G AT C H R I S T M A S

1 Bryant Donham, “Wolf Whistle,” 9–10.
2 Ibid., 9.
3  See Jack Temple Kirby, “The Southern Exodus, 1910–1960: A Primer for Historians,”

Journal of Southern History 49.4 (1983): 585–600. For the Great Migration, see, among
others, Wilkins, The Warmth of Other Suns; Grossman, Land of Hope.

4 David M. Oshinsky, “Worse than Slavery”: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow
Justice (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 139.

5 Ibid., 149–50, 161. For Camp A specifically, see Paul Oliver, Conversations with the Blues
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 58.

6 Oshinsky, “Worse than Slavery,” 151, 153.
7 Bryant, “Wolf Whistle,” 13.
8 Ibid., 16–17.
9 Ibid., 17.

10 Anderson, Emmett Till, 24.
11 Bryant, “Wolf Whistle,” 21–22.
12  James Henry Hammond was the first to expound this theory. See Drew Gilpin Faust,

James Henry Hammond and the Old South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University
Press, 1982), 346–47.

13 Bryant, interview.
14  “ ‘Were Never into Meanness,’ Says Accused Men’s Mother,” Memphis Commercial

Appeal, September 2, 1955, quoted in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 34–35.
15 FBI Report, 22–23.
16 Bryant, “Wolf Whistle,” 17–19, 20, 22.
17 Ibid., 27.
18 Adams, “Time Bomb,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 213–24.

19 FBI Report, 32.
20 Adams, “Time Bomb,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 213–24.
21 Bryant, interview.
22  William Bradford Huie, “Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,” Look,

January 24, 1956. See also FBI Report, 25–26; “Milam Is Pictured as a War Hero Who
Also Snatched Negro from Drowning,” Jackson Daily News, September 20, 1955.

23 FBI Report, 25–26.
24 “Milam Is Pictured as a War Hero Who Also Snatched Negro from Drowning.”
25 “Mother of Pair Accused in Delta Slaying ‘Will Stand by Them,’ ” Jackson Daily News,

September 2, 1955; Huie quoted in Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 108–9.
26 FBI Report, 108.
27 Quoted in Ronald Turner, “Remembering Emmett Till,” Howard Law Journal 38 (1994–

95): 422.
28 Bryant, interview.
29 Ibid.; FBI Report, 13, 25–26.
30 Huie, “Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi.”

6 : T H E I N C I D E N T

1  Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 58–59; Anderson, Emmett Till, 27; “Mother
Waits in Vain for Her ‘Bo,’ ” Chicago Defender, September 10, 1955, in Metress, ed., The
Lynching of Emmett Till, 30–31; Herb Boyd, “The Real Deal on Emmett Till,” Black
World Today, May 18, 2004, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.afro-
netizen.com/2004/05/the_real_deal_o.html. For information on each of these young
people, see Devery Anderson’s website, www.emmetttillmurder.com, under “Who’s Who
in the Emmett Till Story.”

2 Bryant, “Wolf Whistle,” 31.
3 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 102.
4 “Kidnapped Boy Whistled at Woman,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 30, 1955.
5 Wright, Simeon’s Story, 50.
6 “Mrs. Roy Bryant, 9-2-55,” lawyer’s notes, copy in possession of the author. My thanks

to reporter Jerry Mitchell for sharing these papers.
7  “Bryant and Milam Face Murder Charge in the Slaying of 15 Year Old Negro Boy,”

Greenwood Morning Star, September 1, 1955. This “goodbye” seems to be a point of
considerable agreement on both sides. Maurice Wright, too, reported that on his way out
of the store Emmett turned and told Carolyn “Goodbye.” See “Events Night of
Kidnapping Told by Slain Boy’s Cousin,” Jackson Daily News, September 1, 1955.

8 Clark Porteous, “Grand Jury to Get Case of Slain Negro Boy Monday,” Memphis Press-
Scimitar, September 1, 1955.

9 “Nation Shocked, Vow Action in Lynching of Chicago Youth,” Baltimore Afro-American,
September 10, 1955.

10 Keith Beauchamp, “The Murder of Emmett Louis Till: The Spark That Started the Civil
Rights Movement,” n.d.,

11 Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America (New
York: Random House, 2002), 423. I take the phrase from W. E. B. Du Bois’s introduction

to the 1953 Jubilee edition of The Souls of Black Folk, but it was coined by Walter
Bagehot in his 1872 Physics and Politics and was common enough in contemporary
scholarly parlance for Du Bois to employ without attribution.

12 Thomas, “The Day That Emmett Till Died.”
13 Wright, Simeon’s Story, 51.
14  Mattie S. Colon and Robert Elliott, “Mother Waits in Vain for Her ‘Bo,’ ” Memphis

Times-Scimitar, September 10, 1955.
15 Boyd, “The Real Deal on Emmett Till.”
16 Wright, Simeon’s Story, 51.
17 Ibid., 52–53. Wheeler Parker also reported back in September 1955, “A girl told us we

hadn’t heard the last of it.” See Barrow, “Here’s a Picture of Emmett Till by Those Who
Knew Him.”

7 : O N T H E T H I R D D AY

1  “Uncle Tells How 3 Kidnapers Invaded Home and Seized Till,” part 1, Chicago Daily
Tribune, September 19, 1955. See also Dixon, “Milam Master-Minded Emmett Till

2 “Urges Husband to Leave Dixie,” Chicago Defender, September 17, 1955.
3 Shoshtak, “Crosby Smith,” 320–25; Bryant, “Wolf Whistle,” 44.
4 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 116–18.
5 Rayfield Mooty, Elizabeth Balanoff Labor Oral History Collection, Roosevelt University,

transcript, 1984, 140–41, accessed April 1, 2016,
www.roosevelt.edu/~/media/Files/pdfs/Library/OralHistory/38-Mooty (hereafter Mooty,

6  “Bryant and Milam Face Murder Charge in Slaying of 15 Year Old Negro Boy,”
Greenwood Morning Star, September 1, 1955; Greenwood Commonwealth, August 30,

7 Shoshtak, “Crosby Smith,” 320–25.
8 Dixon, “Till Case: Torture and Murder,” California Eagle, February 16, 1956.
9 Bryant, “Wolf Whistle,” 46–47.

10  George Smith testimony, trial transcript, 119–20. Sheriff Smith also confirmed that the
issue was alleged “ugly remarks” (“White Storekeeper Held in Abduction of Negro
Youth,” Jackson Daily News, August 29, 1955). See also “ ‘Kidnaped’ Negro Boy Still
Missing, Fear Foul Play,” Jackson Daily News, August 30, 1955.

11 Anderson, Emmett Till, 42–43.
12 Robert Hodges testimony, trial transcript, 103–4. For a description of Hodges, see John

Herbers, “Contradictions Develop as Testimony in Till Trial Begins,” Greenwood Morning
Star, September 22, 1955.

13 FBI Report, 80; Bryant, interview.
14  “No Clues in Disappearance of Negro Youth,” Greenwood Morning Star, August 31,

15  Darryl Christopher Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages: The Print Media’s

Stories of Emmett Till,” PhD diss., Temple University, 2007, 120.
16 “Boy’s Slaying Held Murder by Gov. White,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 2, 1955.
17 “Search Halted for Woman in Negro Slaying,” Birmingham News, September 3, 1955.
18 Bryant, “Wolf Whistle,” 47.

19  “Bryant’s Brother Claims Charges Are All ‘Politics,’ ” Memphis Commercial Appeal,
September 3, 1955.

20  “Mississippi Sheriff Voices Doubt Body That of Till,” Greenwood Morning Star,
September 4, 1955.

21 Nelson, The Murder of Emmett Till.
22 B. L. Mims testimony, trial transcript, 113–18; Robert Hodges testimony, trial transcript,

23  James Featherston, “White Orders Investigation in Slaying of Delta Negro: White

Deplores Slaying in a Note to NAACP Which Is Creating a National Issue,” Jackson Daily
News, September 1, 1955. See also Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1955; Memphis
Commercial Appeal, September 1, 1955.

24 Greenwood Commonwealth, August 31, 1955; Chester Miller testimony, trial transcript,

25 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 51–52; Chester Miller testimony, trial transcript,
70–71, 73–74, 97–99. For Wright’s identification of the body, see also Arkansas Gazette,
September 4, 1955.

26 Chester Miller testimony, trial transcript, 70–71, 73–74, 97–99.
27  “Muddy River Gives Up Body of Brutally Slain Negro Boy,” Memphis Commercial

Appeal, September 1, 1955.
28 New York Post, September 1, 1955; Featherston, “White Orders Investigation in Slaying

of Delta Negro.”
29 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 130.
30  Joe Atkins, “Chicago Youth Was ‘Sacrificial Lamb,’ ” Jackson Daily News, August 25,

1985, clipping, box 90, folder 18, Emmett Till folder (1955–1985), Erle Johnston Papers,
University of Southern Mississippi.

31  Suzanne E. Smith, To Serve the Living (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press, 2010), 126; Whitaker, “A Case Study in Southern Justice,” 118–19; C.
M. Nelson testimony, trial transcript, 182.

32 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, xxii.
33 Pittsburgh Courier quoted in Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages,” 169.
34 Charles Frederick Weller to Anne Braden, January 31, 1956, box 26, folder 6, Carl and

Anne Braden Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.

8 : M A M A M A D E T H E E A R T H T R E M B L E

1 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 130–31.
2 Mattie Smith Colin, “Mother’s Tears Greet Son Who Died a Martyr,” Chicago Defender,

September 10, 1955.
3  Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages,” 219, quotes the coverage in the

Chicago Sun-Times.
4 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 132. See also Smith, To Serve the Living,

127. For a good sense of the gender dynamics of her public performances, see Ruth
Feldstein, “ ‘I Wanted the Whole World to See’: Race, Gender and Constructions of
Motherhood in the Death of Emmett Till,” in Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver:
Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945–1960 (Philadelphia: Temple University
Press, 1993), 263–303.

5 Mooty, interview.

6 Colin, “Mother’s Tears Greet Son Who Died a Martyr.”
7  Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the

Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 13–14. See
also Langston Hughes, “Langston Hughes Wonders Why No Lynching Probes,” Chicago
Defender, October 1, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 124–27; “2
Negro Boys Lynched,” New York Times, October 13, 1942. For a full and brilliant
account of this lynching that lets it speak to a century of racial violence in the United
States, see Jason Ward, Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence and America’s Civil Rights
Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

8 Aaron Henry interview by John Dittmer and John Jones, April 22, 1981, transcript, 7–8,
Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Erle Johnston, Mississippi’s Defiant
Years, 1953–1973: An Interpretive History with Personal Experiences (Forest, MS: Lake
Harbor, 1990), 35.

9 Pittsburgh Courier, September 17, 1955, 4.
10 Mooty, interview.
11 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 131–32.
12 Wil Haygood, “The Man from Jet: Simeon Booker Not Only Covered a Tumultuous Era,

He Lived It,” Washington Post, July 15, 2007.
13 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 133.
14 Ibid., 132–37. For Gene Mobley Jr. identification of Till by his haircut, see also Chicago

Tribune, September 4, 1955, 2.
15  Chicago Sun-Times quoted in Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages,” 220;

Mooty, interview.
16 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 139–40.
17  Whitfield, A Death in the Delta, 23, estimates turnout that first night at “perhaps ten

thousand.” Chicago Defender, September 10, 1955; Smith, To Serve the Living, 127–28,
also estimates crowds of fifty thousand.

18  Michael Vinson Williams, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (Fayetteville: University of
Arkansas Press, 2011), 126.

19 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 139.
20 Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1955.
21 Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 369–70.
22 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 141, 144.
23  David Smothers, “Killing of Boy in Mississippi called ‘Atrocity,’ ” Jackson Daily News,

September 3, 1955.
24 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 143.
25 Chicago Tribune, September 7, 1955.
26 Chicago Tribune, September 7, 1955; Chicago Defender, September 17, 1955.
27 “Milam and Bryant to Be Tried Sept. 19,” Greenwood Morning Star, September 10, 1955.
28 Jet, September 15, 1955, 6–9; Chicago Defender, September 17, 1955.
29 Green, Selling the Race, 198.
30 Julian Bond, “The Media and the Movement: Looking Back from the Southern Front,” in

Brian Ward, ed., Media, Culture and the Modern African American Freedom Struggle
(Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001), 27.

31  Ann Marie Tabb, “Perspectives in Journalism: Covering the Emmett Till Trial,” MA
thesis, University of Southern Mississippi, 2001, 20.

32 Green, Selling the Race, 180–82, 208.

9 : W A R R I N G R E G I M E N T S O F M I S S I S S I P P I

1  Tom P. Brady, Black Monday: Segregation or Amalgamation. America Has Its Choice
(Winona, MS: Association of Citizens’ Councils, 1954), 63–64. See also Hodding Carter
III, The South Strikes Back (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959), 29.

2 J. W. Milam, quoted in Huie, “Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,” 50.
3  See Douglas R. Edgerton, The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of

America’s Most Progressive Era (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014); LeRae Sikes Umfleet, A
Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot (Raleigh: North Carolina Office of
Archives and History, 2009); David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson, Democracy
Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot and Its Legacy (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1998); H. Leon Prather, We Have Taken a City: Wilmington Coup and
Massacre of 1898 (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984); Helen G.
Edmonds, The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894–1901 (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1951); David Fort Godshalk, Veiled Visions: The
1906 Atlanta Race Riot and the Reshaping of American Race Relations (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2005); Roberta Senechal, The Sociogenesis of a Race
Riot: Springfield, Illinois, in 1908 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990); Elliott
Rudwick, Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1982); Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, American Congo: The African American Freedom
Struggle in the Delta (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 74–109; Scott
Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (1982; Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1992).

4  William Bradford Huie, “Wolf Whistle,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till,

5  Jason Morgan Ward, Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist
Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 2011), 6–7.

6 Woodruff, American Congo, 213–14, 222.
7 Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices (1941; New York: Basic Books, 2011), 11.
8  Kari Frederickson, The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932–1968

(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 2–3, 237–38.
9 Ward, Defending White Democracy, 102, 105.

10 Woodruff, American Congo, 224.
11 National Association of Post Office and General Services Employees to Amzie Moore, July

17, 1953, box 1, folder 2, Amzie Moore Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society; Amzie
Moore interview with Michael Garvey, March 29 and April 13, 1977, University of
Southern Mississippi Oral History,
crdl.usg.edu/export/html/usm/coh/crdl_usm_coh_ohmoorea.html?welcome (hereafter
Moore interview with Garvey). For Moore’s appearance, see photograph in Henry
Hampton et al., eds., Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement
from the 1950s through the 1980s (New York: Bantam, 1990), 139.

12 Interview with Amzie Moore, by Blackside, Inc., 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s
Civil Rights Years (1954–1975), Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry
Hampton Collection, accessed April 1, 2016, http://digital.wustl.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?
c=eop;cc=eop;rgn=main;view=text;idno=moo0015.0109.072 (hereafter Moore, Eyes on
the Prize interview).

13 Moore interview with Garvey.

14 Malcolm Boyd, “Survival of a Negro Leader,” February 27, 1965, box 1, folder 1, Amzie
Moore Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society. See also James Forman, The Making of Black
Revolutionaries (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 278.

15 Moore interview with Garvey.
16 Ibid.
17  Charles McLaurin, interview by the author, 2012, Timothy B. Tyson Papers, Southern

Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
18 Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, 278–79.
19  Matthew Skidmore to Amzie Moore, July 10, 1955, b. 4 f. 2, Amzie Moore Papers,

Wisconsin Historical Society.
20  Matthew Skidmore to Amzie Moore, July 16, 1955, b. 1 f. 2, Amzie Moore Papers,

Wisconsin Historical Society.
21 Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, 278–79.
22 Amzie Moore interview, in Howell Raines, ed., My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the

Deep South Remembered (New York: Penguin, 1977), 233.
23 Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, 279.
24 Moore interview with Garvey.
25 Amzie Moore certificate of Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army, January 17, 1946,

Camp Shelby, Mississippi, b. 1 f. 1, Amzie Moore Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.
26 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 30.
27 Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, 279. Moore estimated that at least one

returning black serviceman was killed each week for six to eight weeks. Charles Payne
sensibly concludes that the figure is probably exaggerated, though life on desolate
plantations, isolated and harsh, was cheap, and news of a number of killings may not have
gotten out (Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 448n6).

28 Moore interview with Garvey.
29 Moore, Eyes on the Prize interview.
30  John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana:

University of Illinois Press, 1994), 9.
31 Myrlie Evers-Williams and Manning Marable, eds., The Autobiography of Medgar Evers

(New York: Basic Books, 2005), 12.
32 Williams, Medgar Evers, 38, 40–41; Charles Evers and Andrew Szanton, Have No Fear: A

Black Man’s Fight for Respect in America (New York: Wiley, 1997), 64.
33 Williams, Medgar Evers, 31, 44–51; Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 49–50; Evers

and Szanton, Have No Fear, 57–58. See also “Mound Bayou Man Files Application at ‘U’
Law School,” Jackson Daily News, January 22, 1954.

34  Evers-Williams and Marable, The Autobiography of Medgar Evers, 7–9; Evers and
Szanton, Have No Fear, 67.

35 This portrait of Howard is drawn from an excellent biography by David Beito and Linda
Royster Beito, Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic
Power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009); Dittmer, Local People, 32; Evers and
Szanton, Have No Fear, 65–66; Williams, Medgar Evers, 56–57. For the weapons, see
Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, xiii.

36  Jay Driskell, “Amzie Moore: The Biographical Roots of the Civil Rights Movement in
Mississippi,” in Susan Glisson, ed., The Human Tradition in the Civil Rights Movement
(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), 137.

37 “Dear Leader,” Bolivar County Invitational Committee of the Proposed Delta Council of
Negro Leadership, December 10, 1951, b. 7 f. 2, Amzie Moore Papers, Wisconsin

Historical Society. Moore himself recalled that the first meeting took place at the H. M.
Nailer School in Cleveland in 1950, but the printed invitations indicate that it was at the
Cleveland Colored High School in 1951. See Forman, The Making of Black
Revolutionaries, 279; Aaron Henry interview by John Dittmer and John Jones, April 22,
1981, transcript, 18–19, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

38 Moore interview with Garvey.
39 “The Accomplishments and Objectives of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership of

Mississippi,” box 7, folder 2, Amzie Moore Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society. See also
“The New Fighting South: Militant Negroes Refuse to Leave Dixie or Be Silenced,” Jet,
August 1955, 69–74.

40 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 31–32; Driskell, “Amzie Moore,” 137–40; “The
Accomplishments and Objectives of the Regional Council on Negro Leadership of

41 Moore interview with Garvey; Boyd, “Survival of a Negro Leader.”
42  Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 80; “The Accomplishments and Objectives of the

Regional Council on Negro Leadership of Mississippi”; “No Rest Room, No Gas,”
Regional Council on Negro Leadership press release, n.d., box A466, Group 2, NAACP
Papers, Library of Congress. See also Driskell, “Amzie Moore,” 139–40.

43 Evers and Szanton, Have No Fear, 73.
44  Myrlie Evers with William Peters, For Us, the Living (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,

1967), 87–88.
45 “The Accomplishments and Objectives of the Regional Council on Negro Leadership of

Mississippi”; “No Rest Room, No Gas”; Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 81.
46 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 79.
47  “Program of the Third Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Regional Council of Negro

Leadership,” May 7, 1954, Mound Bayou, Mississippi, box 7, folder 2, Amzie Moore
Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society; Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 88.

48 “The New Fighting South,” 69. See also Akinyele Omowale Umoja, We Will Shoot Back:
Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (New York: New York University
Press, 2013), 32.

49 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 82, 89.
50 Ward, Defending White Democracy, 65, 90, 102, 123–24.

1 0 : B L A C K M O N D AY

1  Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative
Counterrevolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 19.

2  Tom Ethridge, “Racial Crisis Spurs Sale of Book, ‘Black Monday,’ ” Clarion-Ledger,
August 7, 1955.

3  Neil R. McMillen, The Citizens’ Council: Organized Resistance to the Second
Reconstruction, 1954–64 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 17–18.

4  Tom P. Brady, Black Monday, excerpted in Clayborne Carson et al., eds., Eyes on the
Prize Reader (New York: Penguin, 1991), 86–89.

5 Florence Mars, Witness in Philadelphia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
1977), 53.

6 McMillen, Citizens’ Council, 17–18.
7 Mars, Witness in Philadelphia, 53.

8 McMillen, Citizens’ Council, 17.
9  Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Mind That Burns in Each Body,” Southern Exposure,

November/December 1984, 64; Hall, Revolt against Chivalry, 155.
10 Brady, Black Monday, 12.
11 Ibid., 10–11 and 10–13.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Wayne Addison Clark, “An Analysis of the Relationship between Anti-Communism and

Segregationist Thought in the Deep South, 1948–1964,” PhD diss., University of
Wisconsin–Madison, 1976, 95–96.

15 Brady, Black Monday, excerpted in Carson et al., eds., Eyes on the Prize Reader, 89.
16  Clark, “An Analysis of the Relationship between Anti-Communism and Segregationist

Thought in the Deep South,” 84, 92, 95–96.
17 Robert Patterson interview, in Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 298.
18 Richard Kluger, Simple Justice (New York: Vintage, 1977), 279–82.
19 Ward, Defending White Democracy, 125.
20 Carter, The South Strikes Back, 22–23.
21  Phillip Luce, “Down in Mississippi—The White Citizens’ Council,” Chicago Jewish

Forum, c. 1958, box 1, folder 19, Citizens’ Council Papers, University of Southern
Mississippi, 324.

22 McMillen, The Citizens’ Council, 18–19; Robert Patterson interview, in Raines, My Soul
Is Rested, 298.

23 Crespino, In Search of Another Country, 23.
24 Johnston, Mississippi’s Defiant Years, 13–14.
25 Erle Johnston, “Interview with Dr. Caudill,” n.d., Citizens’ Council Papers, University of

Southern Mississippi.
26  Phillip Abbott Luce, “The Mississippi White Citizens Council, 1954–1959,” MA thesis,

Ohio State University, 1960, 19.
27 FBI Report, 16–17.
28 “Pro-Segregation Groups in the South,” Southern Regional Council, November 19, 1956,

1, box 3, folder 15, Citizens Council Collection, University of Southern Mississippi.
29  McMillen, The Citizens Council, 18–19. For an analysis of this kind of masculinist

rhetoric in the Citizens’ Council movement, see Steve Estes, I Am a Man! Race, Manhood
and the Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005),

30 W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York: Knopf, 1941), 117–19.
31  “Strong Organization Only Way to Combat Integration Says Patterson,” Greenwood

Morning Star, September 14, 1955.
32 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 35; Johnston, Mississippi’s Defiant Years, 15–16.
33  For Lillian Smith quote, see Clark, “An Analysis of the Relationship between Anti-

Communism and Segregationist Thought in the Deep South,” 205.
34 Carter, The South Strikes Back, 49–50.
35 Dittmer, Local People, 45–46.
36 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 431.
37 “Pro-Segregation Groups in the South,” 7–8.
38 Carter, The South Strikes Back, 17.
39 Luce, “Down in Mississippi.”
40 Whitaker, “A Case Study in Southern Justice,” 81.

41  “Citizens Council to Establish Official Paper at Indianola,” Greenwood Morning Star,
September 16, 1955.

42  Luce, “Down in Mississippi,” 327. All issues of the Citizen are available at

43 Whitaker, “A Case Study in Southern Justice,” 73.
44 Medgar Evers quoted in Bem Price, “Associated Press Writer Views Mississippi Problem,”

Jackson Daily News, August 21, 1955; Ruby Hurley, “News and Action,” NAACP
Southeast Regional Office, Birmingham, Alabama, September 1955, box 2, Medgar Evers
Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

45 Dittmer, Local People, 46–47.
46 Price, “Associated Press Writer Views Mississippi Problem.” Jackson Daily News, August

21, 1955.
47 “McCoy Has Reached the Limit,” Jackson Daily News, August 22, 1955.
48 Crespino, In Search of Another Country, 25.
49  NAACP, “M Is for Mississippi and Murder,” 1955, box 2, folder 19, Citizens’ Council

magazine articles, McCain Papers, University of Southern Mississippi.
50 Crespino, In Search of Another Country, 26.
51  This founder and financier quoted in Luce, “The Mississippi White Citizens’ Council,”

52  For the White Citizens Legal Fund and the defense of Medgar Evers’s murderer, see

clipping from the June 1963 Greenwood Commonwealth, Medgar Evers FBI file, 19,
Medgar Evers Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

53 Crespino, In Search of Another Country, 26.
54 Luce, “Down in Mississippi.”
55 Ruby Hurley, Regional Secretary, to Gloster Current, Director of Branches, NAACP, New

York City, box 2, folder 7, Medgar Evers Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and

56 Dittmer, Local People, 34–36, 43.
57  Charles C. Bolton, The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle over School Integration in

Mississippi, 1870–1980 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 67–69.
58 Dittmer, Local People, 46.
59 Carter, The South Strikes Back, 37.
60 Bolton, The Hardest Deal of All, 67.
61 Dittmer, Local People, 45.
62  Percy Greene quoted in Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 110; “Rev. George Lee’s

Murderers Never Caught,” Neshoba News, December 8, 1995; McMillen, Citizens’
Council, 28.

63 Jackson Daily News, August 18, 1955; Bolton, The Hardest Deal of All, 73–75.
64  Medgar Evers, 1955 Annual Report from the Mississippi State Office, National

Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Jackson, box 2, Medgar Evers
Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Bolton, The Hardest Deal of All,

65 Evers, 1955 Annual Report. For the growth of the NAACP, see Payne, I’ve Got the Light
of Freedom, 40, 140.

66  Medgar Evers to Roy Wilkins, September 12, 1956, box 2, folder 9, Coleman Papers,
Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

67  Eagle Eye, August 20, 1955, box 2, folder 7, Medgar Evers Papers, Mississippi
Department of Archives and History.

68  Quoted in Steven D. Classen, Watching Jim Crow: The Struggles over Mississippi TV,
1955–1969 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 32–33.

69  Quoted in Randy Sparkman, “The Murder of Emmett Till,” Slate, June 21, 2005,
mett_till.html. Accessed October 31, 2016.

1 1 : P E O P L E W E D O N ’ T N E E D A R O U N D H E R E A N Y M O R E

1 Phillip Abbott Luce, “The Mississippi White Citizens Council, 1954–1959,” MA thesis,
Ohio State University, 1960, 3.

2  NAACP, “M Is for Mississippi and Murder,” 1955, box 2, folder 19, Citizens’ Council
magazine articles, McCain Papers, Special Collections, University of Southern Mississippi.

3  Aaron Henry interview by John Dittmer and John Jones, 1982, transcript, 10–11,
Mississippi Department of Archives and History (hereafter cited as MDAH).

4 Jack Mendelsohn, The Martyrs (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 1.
5 David Halberstam, The Fifties (New York: Villard, 1993), 430.
6 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 13.
7 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 112.
8 “Candidates Say Delta Negroes Aren’t Democrats,” Jackson Daily News, August 2, 1955.
9 “U.S. Won’t Investigate Charges Negroes Couldn’t Vote in First Primary,” Jackson Daily

News, August 16, 1955. See also Stephen Andrew Berrey, “Against the Law: Violence,
Crime, State Repression, and Black Resistance in Jim Crow Mississippi,” PhD diss.,
University of Texas at Austin, 2006, 162.

10 “Prosecution Is Sought in Negro Voting Methods,” Jackson Daily News, August 26, 1955;
“Group Named to Study Ways to Cut Down on Negro Voting: Committee Fears Negroes
‘Played Too Large a Part in State’s Last Elections,’ ” Jackson Daily News, August 30, 1955.

11  Margaret Price, The Negro Voter in the South (Atlanta: Southern Regional Council,
1957), 20.

12  Bem Price, “Associated Press Writer Views Mississippi Problem,” Jackson Daily News,
August 21, 1955; Carter, The South Strikes Back, 41–42.

13 Hugh Stephen Whitaker, “A Case Study in Southern Justice: The Emmett Till Case,” MA
thesis, Florida State University, 1963, 62, 74–75. Hereafter, Whitaker, “A Case Study.”

14 Carter, The South Strikes Back, 41–42.
15  Photostat submitted by NAACP national executive director Roy Wilkins to U.S. Senate

Judiciary Committee, May 16, 1956, in Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission online
files under “Gus Courts.”

16 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 7.
17 Simeon Booker, Black Man’s America (Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964), 161.
18 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 2.
19 David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, “The Grim and Overlooked Anniversary of the

Murder of the Rev. George W. Lee, Civil Rights Activist,” History News Network, May 9,
2005, www.hnn.us/article/11744. Accessed October 31, 2016.

20 Booker, Black Man’s America, 161–62.
21  Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 140. For Lee’s militancy, see “Is Mississippi

Hushing Up a Lynching? Mississippi Gunmen Take Life of Militant Negro Minister,” Jet
8.3 (1955): 196. Payne takes a similar view of Lee, calling him one of “the more radical

leaders” in Mississippi, along with Medgar Evers, Aaron Henry, and Amzie Moore, all of
whom were active in the RCNL.

22 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 36, 49.
23 For Wilkins’s estimates of Courts and Lee’s voter registration successes, see Roy Wilkins

with Tom Mathews, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (New York:
Viking, 1982), 222. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 36–37, estimates “about 100”
and documents the threat to sue Sheriff Shelton when he refused to accept poll tax
payments. For the quote from the sheriff, see Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate (New
York: Knopf, 2002), 700. Courts himself estimated “about 400.” “Testimony of Rev. Gus
Courts, Belzoni, Miss.,” in Civil Rights—1957: Hearings before the Subcommittee on
Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 85th Congress, First
Session, 532 (hereafter cited as Courts testimony).

24  Roy Wilkins, testimony before U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, May 16, 1956, in
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission online, under “Gus Courts.”

25 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 36–37, 49. For the Citizens’ Council campaign of
reprisals, see http://www.splc.org/what-we-do-/civil-rights-memorial/civil-rights-
martyrs/george-lee. Accessed October 31, 2016.

26 Price, “Associated Press Writer Views Mississippi Problem.”
27 Anderson, Separate but Equal, 121; Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 37.
28 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 3.
29 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 37; Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 5. See also Courts

testimony, 545.
30  “Rev. George Lee’s Murderers Never Caught,” Neshoba News, December 8, 2005. See

also Susan Klopfer, “FBI Investigated George Lee’s Murder; Suspects Never Tried,” Ezine,
December 8, 2005, http://ezinearticles.com/?FBI-Investigated-George-Lees-Murder;-
Suspects-Never-Tried&id=109869. Accessed October 31, 2016.

31 Mary Panzer, “H. C. Anderson and the Civil Rights Struggle,” in Henry Clay Anderson et
al., Separate but Equal: The Mississippi Photographs of Henry Clay Anderson (New York:
PublicAffairs, 2002), 122–23.

32 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 5; Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 37; FBI Report, 17.
33 Dittmer, Local People, 53–54; FBI Report, 17.
34  Williams, Medgar Evers, 120; Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 37; Wilkins,

Standing Fast, 222.
35  Medgar Evers, 1955 Annual Report, Mississippi State Office of the NAACP, box 2,

Medgar Evers Papers, MDAH.
36 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 51; Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 8–9.
37  Roy Wilkins to Medgar Evers, May 26, 1955, box 2, Medgar Evers Papers, MDAH;

“NAACP Posts Reward in Lee’s Death,” Jackson State-Times, June 2, 1955.
38 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 8–9; “NAACP Posts Reward in Lee’s Death.”
39 J. Todd Moye, Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in

Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945–1986 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 2004), 80.

40 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 10. See also Umoja, We Will Shoot Back, 34.
41 Anderson, Separate but Equal, 134.
42 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 37–38, 138–39.
43 “Is Mississippi Hushing Up a Lynching? Mississippi Gunmen Take Life of Militant Negro

Minister,” Jet, n.d. 1955, Medgar Evers Papers, MDAH; Carl M. Cannon, “Emmett Till
and the Dark Path to August 28, 1963,” Real Clear Politics, August 28, 2013,

_1963_119750.html. Accessed October 31, 2016.

44 Umoja, We Will Shoot Back, 34; Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 139.
45 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 11–12.
46 FBI 1956 memo quoted in Klopfer, “FBI Investigated George Lee’s Murder.”
47  Courts testimony, 532–33; Jay Milner, “Wounded Negro’s Wife Says Mate Was

‘Threatened,’ ” Jackson Clarion-Ledger, November 11, 1955, clipping in box 3 folder 6,
Ed King Papers, Coleman Library, Tougaloo College (now housed at MDAH).

48 Price, “Associated Press Writer Views Mississippi Problem.”
49 Courts testimony, 533–34.
50 Courts testimony, 559. See also “Is Mississippi Hushing Up a Lynching?”; Payne, I’ve Got

the Light of Freedom, 37–39.
51 Gus Courts to Medgar Evers, n.d., box 2, Medgar Evers Papers, MDAH.
52 Milner, “Wounded Negro’s Wife Says Mate Was ‘Threatened.’ ”
53 Courts testimony, 533.
54 Milner, “Wounded Negro’s Wife Says Mate Was ‘Threatened.’ ” See also Caro, Master of

the Senate, 700.
55 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 39.
56  James Featherston, “Two More White Men Charged in Brookhaven for Murder of

Negro,” Jackson Daily News, August 17, 1955; James Featherston, “Links Shooting of
Negro with Voting Irregularities,” Jackson Daily News, August 14, 1955. For the gunshot
in his mouth, see “Negro Involved in Election Slain in Courthouse Fracas—Brookhaven
Negro Linked in Election Slain by Gun Fire,” Jackson Daily News, August 13, 1955; FBI
Report, 18.

57 Arrington High, The Eagle Eye: The Women’s Voice, 2.36, August 20, 1955, in Medgar
Evers Papers, box 2, folder 7, MDAH.

58  “See Further Drop in Negro Voting in Next Tuesday’s Election Following Slaying of
Brookhaven Negro Leader,” Jackson Advocate, August 20, 1955.

59 Carter, The South Strikes Back, 119.
60 “Lincoln County Grand Jury Unable to Get One Witness to Testify,” Jackson Advocate,

September 24, 1955.
61 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 40.
62 Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, 19.
63 Amzie Moore to James Kizart, December 20, 1955, box 1, folder 2, Amzie Moore Papers,

Wisconsin Historical Society.
64 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 44; Charles McLaurin, interview with the author,

2012, Timothy B. Tyson Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill.

65  Courts testimony, 532. See also Aaron Henry with Constance Curry, The Fire Ever
Burning (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000), 97.

66  Susan Klopfer et al., Where Rebels Roost: Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited, Lulu.com,
2005, 287.

1 2 : F I X E D O P I N I O N S

1 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 126.

2  Lloyd L. General, “Moses Wright Made His Decision—Became Hero,” Atlanta Daily
World, October 2, 1955.

3  Moses Newsom, “Emmett’s Kin Hang On to Harvest Crop,” Chicago Defender,
September 17, 1955.

4  Denley, “Kinsman Recalls Tragic Night on Eve of Trial,” Chicago Defender, September
24, 1955, 2.

5 General, “Moses Wright Made His Decision—Became Hero.”
6  James Featherston, “White ‘Deplores’ Slaying in Note to NAACP Which Is Creating

National Issue,” Jackson Daily News, September 1, 1955, 1.
7 Greenwood Morning Star, September 3, 1955, 1.
8 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 119.
9 Anderson, Emmett Till, 53; Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 147–48.

10 Delta Democrat-Times, December 29, 1955, 1.
11  Dan Wakefield, “Justice in Sumner,” Nation, October 1, 1955, in Metress, ed., The

Lynching of Emmett Till, 120–24.
12 Mace, “Regional Identities,” 240–41.
13 Bryant, Interview.
14 Shoshtak, “Crosby Smith: Forgotten Witness to a Mississippi Nightmare,” 323.
15  Jack Telfer, Program Coordinator, United Packinghouse Workers Association–CIO,

September 21, 1955, to Richard Durham, National Program Director, box 396, folder 7,
United Packinghouse Workers of America Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.

16 James Featherston, “State Will Not Seek Death Penalty,” Jackson Daily News, September
19, 1955, 14.

17 Quoted in Craig Flournoy, “Reporting the Movement in Black and White: The Emmett
Till Lynching and the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” PhD diss., Louisiana State University,
2003, 84.

18 L. Alex Wilson, “Jim Crow Press at Trial,” Chicago Defender, September 24, 1955, 1.
19  “Newspapers Over State Blast Murder of Negro,” Jackson Daily News, September 3,

1955, 1; Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 119–21; Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 118–19.
20 Colin, “Mother’s Tears Greet Son Who Died a Martyr,” Chicago Defender, September 10,

1955, 1.
21  James Featherston, “White Orders Investigation in Slaying of Delta Negro—White

‘Deplores’ Slaying in Note to NAACP Which Is Creating a National Issue,” Jackson Daily
News, September 1, 1955, 1.

22 Greenwood Morning Star, September 1, 1955, 1.
23  “Body of Negro Found in River,” Jackson Clarion-Ledger, September 1, 1955, 1;

Featherston, “White Orders Investigation In Slaying of Delta Negro,” Jackson Daily
News, September 1, 1955, 1.

24 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 118–19.
25 Quoted in Houck and Grindy, Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press, 51.
26  Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 132; Bryant, Interview; Memphis Commercial Appeal,

September 4, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 36.
27 Jackson Daily News, September 5, 1955, 1, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till,

28 Anderson, Emmett Till, 57–58.
29 Greenwood Morning Star, September 6, 1955, 1.
30 Delta Democrat-Times, September 6, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till,


31 Houck and Grindy, Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press, 66.
32 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 119.
33 James Hicks, “Mississippi Jungle Law Frees Slayers of Child,” Cleveland Call and Post,

October 1, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 111–13.
34  Harry Marsh, “Judge Swango Is Good Promoter for South,” Delta Democrat-Times,

September 21, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 60.
35 Murray Kempton, “Heart of Darkness,” New York Post, September 21, 1955, in Metress,

ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 64.
36  “Roman Circus,” Jackson Daily News, September 22, 1955, in Metress, ed., The

Lynching of Emmett Till, 60; “Cast in Compelling Courtroom Drama Matches Movies,”
Jackson Daily News, September 20, 1955, 1.

37 L. Alex Wilson, “Jim Crow Press at Trial,” Chicago Defender, September 24, 1955, 1.
38  “Summary Fact Sheet of the Emmett Till Lynching Case,” box 69, folder 7, 2, United

Packinghouse Workers of America Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.
39  Harry Marsh interview transcript in Ann Marie Tabb, “Perspectives in Journalism:

Covering the Emmett Till Trial,” honors thesis, University of Southern Mississippi, 2001,

40  Harry Marsh, “Judge Swango Is Good Promoter for South,” Delta Democrat-Times,
September 21, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 61.

41  Simeon Booker, Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights
Movement (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 74.

42  Sam Johnson, “Two White Men Go On Trial Monday for Slaying of Negro,” Jackson
Daily News, September 18, 1955, 4.

43 “Two White Men Go On Trial,” Arkansas Gazette, September 20, 1955, 14-B.
44  L. Alex Wilson, “Jim Crow Press at Till Trial; Frisk Newsmen; Picking of Jury Delays

Opening,” Chicago Defender, September 24, 1955, 1.
45 “Two White Men Go On Trial,” Arkansas Gazette, September 20, 1955, 14-B.
46 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 139.
47  Rob Hall, “Lynched Boy’s Mother Sees Jurymen Picked,” Daily Worker, September 21,

1955, 1.
48  Greenwood Morning Star, September 25, 1955, 1; Memphis Commercial Appeal,

September 21, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 59.
49 The jurors’ rate of pay is in Mace, “Regional Identities,” 259. The hotel details and the

evidence of jury tampering by the Citizens’ Council may be found in Whitaker, “A Case
Study,” 154, and FBI Report, 16–17.

50 Kempton, “Heart of Darkness,” New York Post, September 21, 1955, in Metress, ed., The
Lynching of Emmett Till, 63.

51 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 145–46.
52  Chicago Tribune, September 18, 1955, 1, reported: “Among the white residents of

Tallahatchie County, a random sampling of public opinion produced no one who expects
the two murder defendants to be found guilty.” See also Baltimore Afro-American,
October 2, 1955, 4, which reported that its reporters “could not find a single person in the
Mississippi Delta who believed that the two men would be found guilty.”

53 Greenwood Morning Star, September 23, 1955, 6.
54 W. C. Shoemaker, “Sumner Citizens Turn Public Relations Experts While Sunlight Beams

At Them,” Jackson Daily News, September 20, 1955, 1; Mace, “Regional Identities,” 182.
55 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 148; Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 44–45.

56 Harry Marsh, “Radio Station Making Much Ado with Emmett Till Murder Trial,” Delta
Democrat-Times, September 22, 1955.

57 Caro, Master of the Senate, 701–9.
58  Harry Marsh, “Communist Writer at Trial Lauds Citizens,” Delta Democrat-Times,

September 28, 1955, 1.
59 Harry Marsh, “Radio Stations Making Much Ado with Emmett Till Murder Trial,” 17.

See also Tabb, “Perspectives in Journalism,” 28.
60 Robert Elliot, “A Report on the Till Case: All the Witnesses Fled,” Chicago (November

1955): 54–55; Kevin Grimm, “Color and Credibility: Eisenhower, the United States
Information Agency, and Race,” MA thesis, Ohio University, 2008, 72–73 and 83.

61 Caro, Master of the Senate, 709.
62 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 149.
63  Dan Wakefield, writing for the Nation, quoted in Craig Flournoy, “Reporting the

Movement in Black and White: The Emmett Till Lynching and the Montgomery Bus
Boycott,” PhD diss., Louisiana State University, 2003, 84.

64 David Halberstam, The Fifties (New York: Villard Books, 1993), 453.
65 For most white men carrying guns, see “UPWA Carries Fight for Justice to the Scene of

Trial,” Packinghouse Worker 14.1 (September 1955): 1, box 369, folder 7, United
Packinghouse Workers Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society; quote is from Matthew
Nichter, Chapter 3 draft, “ ‘Did Emmett Till Die in Vain? Labor Says No’: The United
Packinghouse Workers of America and Civil Rights Unionism in the Mid-1950s,” 11–12,
in “Rethinking the Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Radicals, Repression, and the
Black Freedom Struggle,” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2014, in
possession of the author. Many thanks to Nichter for sharing this with me.

66 James Featherston, “Till Murder Trial,” Jackson Daily News, September 20, 1955, 7.
67 Moore interview with Michael Garvey.
68 Matthew Nichter, “ ‘Did Emmett Till Die in Vain?,’ ” 13–17.
69 “UPWA Carries Fight for Justice to the Scene of Trial.”
70 Mrs. Lillian Pittman, president of the Ladies Auxiliary, United Packinghouse Workers of

America–CIO Local 1167, Gramercy, Louisiana, report on the Till trial, in Packinghouse
Worker 14.9 (September 1955): 3.

71 Ibid.
72 Ibid.
73 “UPWA Carries Fight for Justice to the Scene of Trial.”
74  Jack Telfer, Program Coordinator, United Packinghouse Workers of America–CIO,

Sumner, Mississippi, September 21, 1955, to Richard Durham, National Program
Coordinator, UPWA-CIO, box 369, folder 7, UPWA Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.

75 “UPWA Carries Fight for Justice to the Scene of Trial.”
76 Nichter, “ ‘Did Emmett Till Die in Vain?,’ ” 26.
77  Chicago Defender, September 24, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till,

48–50; “Jim Crow Press Table,” Chicago Defender, October 1, 1955, 3; Jackson Daily
News, September 20, 1955, 6; James Hicks, “White Reporters Double-Crossed Probers
Seeking Lost Witnesses,” Cleveland Call and Post, October 15, 1955, in Metress, ed., The
Lynching of Emmett Till, 161–67.

78 Kempton, “Heart of Darkness,” New York Post, September 21, 1955, in Metress, ed., The
Lynching of Emmett Till, 62–64.

79  Charles E. Cobb, Jr., This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed (New York: Basic Books,
2014), 132. This greeting was reported, with certain variations for time of day, by several

observers. See, for example, Kempton, “Heart of Darkness,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching
of Emmett Till, 62–64.

80  Harvey Young, “A New Fear Unknown to Me: Emmett Till’s Influence and the Black
Panther Party,” Southern Quarterly 45.4 (2008): 30.

1 3 : M I S S I S S I P P I U N D E R G R O U N D

1 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 120–21. See also Booker, Black Man’s America, 167–68.
2  James Hicks, “Sheriff Kept Key Witness in Jail During Trial,” Cleveland Call and Post,

October 8, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 155–61.
3 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 150.
4 Evers, For Us, the Living, 172.
5 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 120–23.
6  Hicks, “White Reporters Double-Crossed Probers Seeking Lost Witnesses,” in Metress,

ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 164–66.
7 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 122–23.
8 Hall, “Lynched Boy’s Mother Sees Jurymen Picked.”
9 Featherston, “Till Murder Trial.” See also Boston Globe, September 20, 1955.

10 Hall, “Lynched Boy’s Mother Sees Jurymen Picked.”
11  “Congressman Diggs, Till’s Mother in Attendance at Sumner Trial,” Jackson Advocate,

September 24, 1955.
12  James Hicks, “Awakenings,” Eyes on the Prize, transcript,

www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/about/pt_101_.html. Accessed October 31, 2016.
See also Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages,” 384; Cobb, This Nonviolence
Stuff’ll Get You Killed, 132.

13 Hall, “Lynched Boy’s Mother Sees Jurymen Picked.”
14 “Roman Circus,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 60.
15 Featherston, “Till Murder Trial”; Anderson, Emmett Till, 100, 101–3.
16  Simeon Booker, “A Negro Reporter at the Till Trial” (1956), Nieman Reports, Winter

1999–Spring 2000, 136–37; Kempton, “Heart of Darkness,” in Metress, ed., The
Lynching of Emmett Till, 62–64.

17 Anderson, Emmett Till, 105.
18 Booker, “A Negro Reporter at the Till Trial”; Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 123–24;

James Hicks, “The Mississippi Lynching Story: Luring Terrorized Witnesses from the
Plantation Was Toughest Job,” Cleveland Call and Post, October 22, 1955, in Metress,
ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 168–70; “Defender Writer in Witness Hunt,” Chicago
Defender, October 1, 1955.

1 4 : “ T H E R E H E I S ”

1  Delta Democrat-Times, September 20, 1955. Greenwood Morning Star, September 21,
1955, estimates the courtroom crowd at “more than 400.” This seems a little high. For the
atmosphere, see Herbers, “Jury Selection Reveals Death Demand Unlikely,” 45–53.

2  Bill Minor, Eyes on Mississippi (Jackson, MS: J. Prichard Morris, 2001), 191. For the
church fans, see Kempton, “Heart of Darkness,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett
Till, 62–64.

3 New York Times, September 22, 1955; Moses Wright, “How I Escaped from Mississippi,”
Jet, October 13, 1955.

4 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 11–12. This statement has often been rendered
as “Dar he,” originating with an interview of James Hicks in Eyes on the Prize:
Awakenings, almost twenty-five years later. The transcript and all of the other
contemporary accounts of the trial instead report “There he is.” See also Sam Johnson,
“Uncle of Till’s Identifies Pair of Men Who Abducted Chicago Negro,” Greenwood
Commonwealth, September 21, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 68;
Rob Hall, “Acquittal in the Till Murder Shows Federal Intervention Is Needed,” Daily
Worker, October 2, 1955.

5  James Featherston, “Dim Light Casts Some Doubt on the Identity of Till’s Abductors,”
Jackson Daily News, September 22, 1955; Booker, Shocking the Conscience, 74.

6  Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 17–18; Featherston, “Dim Light Casts Some
Doubt on the Identity of Till’s Abductors.”

7  Murray Kempton, “He Went All the Way,” New York Post, September 22, 1955, in
Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 65.

8 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 18–24.
9  Ibid., 27; Kempton, “He Went All the Way,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett

Till, 66.
10 Moses Wright testimony, trial transcript, 32–66.
11 Wakefield, “Justice in Sumner,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 120–24.
12 Chester Miller testimony, trial transcript, 66–67.
13 Ibid., 67–83, 94–102.
14 Kempton, “Heart of Darkness,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 64.
15 Robert Hodges testimony, trial transcript, 103–12; B. L. Mims testimony, trial transcript,

16 George Smith testimony, trial transcript, 122–33.
17 John Ed Cothran testimony, trial transcript, 139–46.
18 Ibid., 159–71.
19 “UPWA Carries Fight for Justice to the Scene of Trial,” 1.
20 New York Times, September 23, 1955; Murray Kempton, “The Future,” New York Post,

September 23, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 84; Greenwood
Commonwealth, September 22, 1955.

21 Mamie Bradley testimony, trial transcript, 185–87.
22 “Mother Insulted on Witness Stand,” Washington Afro-American, September 24, 1955, in

Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 83–84.
23 Mamie Bradley testimony, trial transcript, 188–90.
24  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Evening Bulletin, quoted in Mace, “Regional

Identities and Racial Messages,” 147–48; Mamie Bradley testimony, trial transcript, 189.
25 Mamie Bradley testimony, trial transcript, 190–91.
26 Ibid., 192–209.

1 5 : E V E R Y L A S T A N G L O – S A X O N O N E O F Y O U

1 Bryant, interview.
2  “Till Witness Starts Guarded Life Here,” clipping, n.d., box 369, folder 7, United

Packinghouse Workers Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society. Clipping is probably from

Packinghouse Worker, c. October 1955.
3 Willie Reed testimony, trial transcript, 213–25.
4 Baltimore Afro-American, October 1, 1955.
5 Willie Reed, Amanda Bradley, and Add Reed testimony, trial transcript, 226–59.
6  James Hicks, “Youth Puts Milam in Till Death Barn,” Washington Afro-American,

September 24, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 87–88.
7 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 150–51.
8 Carolyn Bryant testimony, trial transcript, 268.
9 Ibid., 261–79.

10 L. B. Otken testimony, trial transcript, 296–304.
11 H. C. Strider testimony, trial transcript, 284–95.
12 Trial transcript, 350–51.
13 James Hicks, “Called Lynch-Murder ‘Morally, Legally’ Wrong,” Cleveland Call and Post,

October 1, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 102.
14 James Featherston, “Bryant, Milam Still in Custody of Law to Face Kidnapping Charges

in Leflore County after Acquittal of Murder,” Jackson Daily News, September 24, 1955.
15 Hicks, “Called Lynch-Murder ‘Morally, Legally’ Wrong,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of

Emmett Till, 102–3.
16 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 153.
17 Hicks, “Called Lynch-Murder ‘Morally, Legally’ Wrong,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of

Emmett Till, 104.
18 Wakefield, “Justice in Sumner,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 3.
19  Sam Johnson, “Jury Hears Defense and Prosecution Arguments as Testimony Ends in

Kidnap-Slaying Case,” Greenwood Commonwealth, September 23, 1955.
20 James Featherston and W. C. Shoemaker, “Verdict Awaited in Till Trial—State Demands

Conviction; Defense Says No Proof Presented, Asks Acquittal,” Jackson Daily News,
September 23, 1955.

21  Murray Kempton, “2 Face Trial as ‘Whistle’ Kidnappers—Due to Post Bond and Go
Home,” New York Post, September 25, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett
Till, 107–11.

22 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 188.
23 Featherston, “Bryant, Milam Still in Custody of Law to Face Kidnap Charges in Leflore

County after Acquittal of Murder in Sumner.”
24 Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 188.
25 Johnson, “Jury Hears Defense and Prosecution Arguments as Testimony Ends in Kidnap-

Slaying Case”; Sam Johnson, “District Attorney Not Concerned by Outside Agitation and
Pressure,” Greenwood Commonwealth, September 23, 1955.

26  Jack Telfer to Richard Durham, box 369, folder 7, United Packinghouse Workers of
America Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society, September 21, 1955, 3.

27  Kempton, “2 Face Trial As ‘Whistle’ Kidnappers,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of
Emmett Till, 108.

28 Ibid., 107–11.
29 John Herbers, “Not Guilty Verdict in Wolf Whistle Murder,” Greenwood Morning Star,

September 24, 1955.
30  Kempton, “2 Face Trial As ‘Whistle’ Kidnappers,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of

Emmett Till, 107–11.
31  Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 189; “Till Witness Starts Guarded Life


1 6 : T H E V E R D I C T O F T H E W O R L D

1 Arkansas Gazette, September 2, 1955. See also Chicago Defender, September 10, 1955.
2 All of the major antilynching organizations agreed in 1940 that lynching was a murder by

a group acting in service to race, justice, or tradition. See Christopher Waldrep, “War of
Words: The Controversy over the Definition of Lynching, 1899–1940,” Journal of
Southern History 46.1 (2000): 75–100.

3  Amy Louise Wood, Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America,
1890–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009). See James Allen,
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers,
2000). See also James Allen, Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching
in America, www.withoutsanctuary.org. Accessed October 31, 2016.

4 John Herbers, interviewed in Nelson, The Murder of Emmett Till.
5  James Kilgallen, “Defendants Receive Handshakes, Kisses,” Memphis Commercial

Appeal, September 24, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 104–7.
6 Bryant, interview; Kempton, “2 Face Trial as ‘Whistle’ Kidnappers,” in Metress, ed., The

Lynching of Emmett Till, 107–11; Minor, Eyes on Mississippi, 195.
7  Kilgallen, “Defendants Receive Handshakes, Kisses,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of

Emmett Till, 104–7.
8 Chicago Defender, October 1, 1955; Arkansas Gazette, September 24, 1955.
9 Dittmer, Local People, 57; Bryant, interview. Carolyn told me years later that the marriage

never recovered from the Emmett Till murder and its consequences.
10 Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1955.
11 Herbers, “Not Guilty Verdict in Wolf Whistle Murder.”
12 Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1955; Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 154–55; Whitfield, A

Death in the Delta, 42.
13 Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1955.
14 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 155.
15  Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, 189; “Till Witness Starts Guarded Life

16  Herbert Shapiro, White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to

Montgomery (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), 411.
17 Hicks, “Mississippi Jungle Law Frees Slayers of Child,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of

Emmett Till, 101–4.
18 Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages,” 153–54.
19 Johnston, Mississippi’s Defiant Years, 36–37.
20 Greenwood Morning Star, September 28, 1955.
21 Delta Democrat-Times, September 23, 1955.
22 Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages,” 430.
23 Greenwood Morning Star, September 23, 1955.
24 Hodding Carter, “Acquittal,” Delta Democrat-Times, September 23, 1955.
25  Hodding Carter, “Racial Crisis in the Deep South,” Saturday Evening Post 228.25

(December 17, 1955): 26.
26 Roi Ottley, “Pathetic Mississippi,” Chicago Defender, December 31, 1955.
27 Mrs. H. D. Schenk to the editor, Memphis Commercial Appeal, September 25, 1955, in

Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 147–48.
28 Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights,

1945–1975, reprint edition (New York: Vintage, 2007), 40.

29 Greenwood Morning Star, September 30, 1955.
30 William Faulkner, open letter, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 42–43. See

also Joel Williamson, William Faulkner and Southern History (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993), 303.

31  Carol Posner, Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement (New York:
Norton, 2001), 17. See also “Faulkner Challenged,” New York Times, April 18, 1956;
William Faulkner to W. E. B. Du Bois, April 17, 1956, in Joseph Blotner, ed., Selected
Letters of William Faulkner (New York: Scholar Press, 1977), 398; Williamson, William
Faulkner and Southern History, 307.

32  Fred Hobson, But Now I See: The White Racial Conversion Narrative (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1999), 129.

33 Barrow, “Here’s a Picture of Emmett Till by Those Who Knew Him.”
34  Office of the Honorable Adam Clayton Powell Jr., press release, October 11, 1955, in

Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 133–36.
35 New York Times, September 25, 1955. See also Thomas Borstelmann, The Cold War and

the Color Line (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 99.
36 A. Philip Randolph, “Call to Negro Americans,” July 1, 1941, office file 93, Franklin D.

Roosevelt Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. For a full scholarly
examination, see Beth Tomkins Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in
Black America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), especially 148–74.

37 U.S. Department of State, “Progress Report on the Employment of Colored Persons in the
Department of State,” March 31, 1953, box A617, group 2, NAACP Papers, Library of

38  Mary Dudziak, “Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative,” Stanford Law Review 41
(1988): 95; Walter White, A Man Called White (New York: Ayer, 1948), 358–59.

39 Deyton J. Brooks to W. E. B. Du Bois, October 13, 1947, box A637, group 2, NAACP
Papers, Library of Congress.

40  President’s Committee on Civil Rights, To Secure These Rights: The Report of the
President’s Committee on Civil Rights (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1947), 147.

41 Dudziak, “Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative,” 95.
42 Ibid., 111–12.
43 Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line, 98–99.
44  Baltimore Afro-American, October 29, 1955. The writer noted newspapers in Paris,

Rome, and Berlin, among others.
45  Eleanor Roosevelt, “I Think the Till Jury Will Have an Uneasy Conscience,” Memphis

Press-Scimitar, October 11, 1955, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 136–37.
46 Grimm, “Color and Credibility,” 107.
47 Carl T. Rowan, Breaking the Barriers: A Memoir (New York: Little, Brown, 1991), 123.
48 U.S. State Department, Treatment of Minorities in the United States, 10.
49 United States Information Agency, “World Wide Press Comment on the Race Problem in

the United States,” April 10, 1956, quoted in Grimm, “Color and Credibility,” 64–65. For
a fuller discussion of larger issues around these incidents, see Mary Dudziak, Cold War
Civil Rights (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), especially 114, 118.

50  U.S. State Department, Foreign Service Dispatch, American Embassy, Brussels to
Department of State, Washington, March 20, 1956, RG 59 811.411 / 4-1956, box 4158,
General Records of the Department of State, National Archives, College Park, MD.

51 Grimm, “Color and Credibility,” 79; Chicago Defender, November 5, 1955.
52 Grimm, “Color and Credibility,” 72–73, 83.

53 Caro, Master of the Senate, 708.
54 U.S. State Department, Treatment of Minorities in the United States, 10.
55 “Lynching Acquittal Shocks All of Europe,” Daily Worker, October 11, 1955. The writer

quotes Figaro and Le Monde.
56 Green, Selling the Race, 201.
57 Quoted in “Summary Fact Sheet of the Emmett Till Lynching Case,” 8, box 369, folder 7,

United Packinghouse Workers of America Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.
58 Jerry Ward and Robert J. Butler, eds., The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (Westport, CT:

Greenwood Press, 2008), 373.

1 7 : P R O T E S T P O L I T I C S

1  “Two Rallies in North Protest Decision in Mississippi Trial,” Arkansas Gazette,
September 26, 1955, from United Press reports.

2 “6000 at Detroit Rally Protest Mississippi Verdict,” Detroit Free Press, n.d. [September
1955], box 26, folder 4, Carl and Anne Braden Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.

3 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 168.
4 “6000 at Detroit Rally Protest Mississippi Verdict”; Rob Hall, “Lynchers Pals Stack Jury;

Protests Mount thru Land,” Daily Worker, September 25, 1955; “Summary Fact Sheet of
the Emmett Till Lynching Case,” 4; “Two Rallies in North Protest Decision in Mississippi
Trial.” Howard’s speech is reported in Chicago Defender, October 1, 1955; Greenwood
Commonwealth, September 26, 1955. The Cleveland, New Rochelle, and Newark rallies
are reported in Daily Worker, September 26, 1955.

5 “Two Rallies in North Protest Decision in Mississippi Trial.”
6 Green, Selling the Race, 201; Daily Worker, September 25, 1955.
7 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 168; Hall, “Lynchers Pals Stack Jury”; Green, Selling the Race,

201; Nelson, The Murder of Emmett Till; “NAACP Mass Meetings,” Greenwood
Commonwealth, September 26, 1955.

8 “Summary Fact Sheet of the Emmett Till Lynching Case.”
9 New York Times, October 25, 1955.

10 Daily Worker, September 29, 1955.
11  “6000 at Detroit Rally Protest Mississippi Verdict.” For Hurley and Marshall, see

“Overflow Rally Voices Anger in Brooklyn,” Daily Worker, October 3, 1955. See also
Evers, For Us, the Living, 172.

12 Whitaker, “A Case Study,” 168. Whitaker states that Detroit’s rally drew 65,000; if this
were true, the combined figure would be something like 175,000, but since several other
sources say 6,000, I assume that 65,000 is a typographical error. For Detroit and New
York, see William P. Jones, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten
History of Civil Rights (New York: Norton, 2014), 88–89.

13 Governor Frank Clement at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, quoted in W. H.
Lawrence, “Democratic Keynote Talk Assails Nixon as ‘Hatchet Man’ of G.O.P.; Lays
‘Indifference’ to President,” New York Times, August 14, 1956.

14  For the movement to free the Scottsboro defendants, see Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A
Tragedy of the American South, rev. ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
1979); James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro (New York: Pantheon, 1994).

15  Rob Hall, “Set Marathon Service to Hit Till’s Murder,” Daily Worker, September 25,

16 Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1955.
17 “100,000 Across Nation Protest Till Lynching,” Chicago Defender, October 8, 1955.
18 “Harlem Rally,” Chicago Defender, October 8, 1955.
19  Robert Birchman, “10,000 Jam Till Mass Meet Here,” Chicago Defender, October 8,

20 “Minneapolis AFL Asks U.S. Act in Till Murder,” Daily Worker, October 3, 1955.
21 Daily Worker, October 3, 1955.
22  “Rally of 20,000 Here Cheers Call for Action Against Mississippi Goods,” New York

Times, October 12, 1955. See also Daily Worker, October 12, 1955. For the March on
Washington Committees, see Jones, The March on Washington, 89.

23 Daily Worker, October 9, 1955.
24  “Donate $10,000 at Till Rally in Los Angeles,” Chicago Defender, October 22, 1955;

Memphis Tri-State Defender, October 22, 1955.
25 Chicago Defender, November 19, 1955.
26 Evers, 1955 Annual Report.
27 Huie, “Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,” 46–48.
28  “Shake-up at Look,” Time, January 11, 1954; Christopher Metress, “Truth Be Told:

William Bradford Huie’s Emmett Till Cycle,” Southern Quarterly 45.4 (Summer 2): 48–
75. See also Flournoy, “Reporting the Movement in Black and White,” 83.

29 Flournoy, “Reporting the Movement in Black and White,” 83.
30 Huie, “Wolf Whistle,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 235.
31 William Bradford Huie interview, in Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 388–89.
32 Sparkman, “The Murder of Emmett Till,” Slate, June 21, 2005.
33 Huie, “Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,” 46–48.
34 Ibid.
35 Huie, “Wolf Whistle,” in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 242.
36 Hugh Stephen Whitaker, interview by Devery S. Anderson, Emmett Till Murder, June 22,

2005, accessed April 3, 2016, http://www.emmetttillmurder.com/new-page-92.
37 A. Philip Randolph to Martin Luther King Jr., May 7, 1956, in Clayborne Carson et al.,

eds., Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997),
3:247–48; Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1955–1963
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 209.

38 Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 167–68; Carson et al., eds., The Papers of Martin Luther
King, Jr., 3:252–53.

39 T. R. M. Howard, speech, Madison Square Garden, May 24, 1956, tape in Chicago Public

40 Ibid.
41  A. Philip Randolph, speech, Madison Square Garden, May 24, 1956, tape in Chicago

Public Library; Nichter, “ ‘Did Emmett Till Die in Vain?,’ ” 31.
42 Daily Worker, September 10, 1955; Till-Mobley and Benson, Death of Innocence, “About

the Authors.”
43 Rose Jourdain, in Nelson, The Murder of Emmett Till.
44 “Clean Up Chicago First,” Greenwood Morning Star, September 11, 1955.
45  District No. 1, United Packinghouse Workers of America, Chicago, press release,

September 3, 1955, box 369, folder 7, UPWA Papers, Historical Society of Wisconsin.
46 Daily Worker, October 2, 1955.
47  For the importance of the Till case in stimulating the movement in the North and how

those struggles built upon strategies in earlier campaigns, see Martha Biondi, To Stand and

Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2003), 207. The quotation from Herbert Hill came from several of our
many conversations when we were colleagues in the Department of Afro-American Studies
at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1994 until his death in 2004.

1 8 : K I L L I N G E M M E T T T I L L

1 David Blight, “Healing and History: Battlefields and the Problems of Civil War Memory,”
Rally on the High Ground: the National Park Service Symposium on the Civil War
(Online book: National Park Service, 2001).
Http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/rthg/index.htm. Accessed October 30, 2016.

2 FBI Report, 28–29, 87–91.
3 Anderson, Emmett Till, 333–34, 372–73, 375.
4 Willie Reed testimony, trial transcript, 223–25; Daily Worker, October 13, 1955; Mandy

Bradley testimony, trial transcript, 253–55; Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 125.
5  Autopsy report, FBI Report, 99–110; “Emmett Till,” FBI Records: The Vault, accessed

April 5, 2016, https://vault.fbi.gov/Emmett%20Till%20. See also Chester Miller
testimony, trial transcript, 97–99; John Ed Cothran testimony, trial transcript, 150–61.
For Strider’s description of Till’s face, see “Ask Mississippi Governor to Denounce Killing
of Boy,” Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1955.

6 E. S. Gurdjian et al., “Studies on Skull Fractures with Particular Reference to Engineering
Factors,” American Journal of Surgery 78.5 (1949): 738–39. See also Steven N. Byers,
Introduction to Forensic Anthropology (New York: Routledge, 2016), 266–83.

7 Bryant, interview; Anderson, Emmett Till, 334–35.
8 FBI Report, 89–91.
9 FBI Report, 64, 89–91; Anderson, Emmett Till, 336, 376.

10 Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” in James Melvin Washington,
ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York:
HarperOne, 1986), 295–96.

11  William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II (2003; New
York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 148.

12 Chester Himes, letter to the editor, New York Post, September 25, 1955, in Metress, ed.,
The Lynching of Emmett Till, 117.

13 William Faulkner, open letter, in Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till, 43. See also
Williamson, William Faulkner and Southern History, 303.

E P I L O G U E : T H E C H I L D R E N O F E M M E T T T I L L

1  Stephanie Kingsley, “ ‘So Much to Remember’: Exploring the Rosa Parks Papers at the
Library of Congress,” Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine of the American
Historical Association, April 2015, accessed June 21, 2016.

2  Beito and Beito, Black Maverick, 139; interview with Rosa Parks by Blackside, Inc.,
November 14, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954–1975),
Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection, accessed

April 10, 2016, http://digital.wustl.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?

3 Jeanne Theoharis, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Boston: Beacon, 2013), 45, 62.
4 Mace, “Regional Identities and Racial Messages,” 19–22.
5  Raylawni Branch, interview by Kim Adams, October 25, 1993, transcript, 21, Oral

History Collection, University of Southern Mississippi.
6 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 54.
7 Charles McDew, in Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC (New

Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998), 68.
8 Bond, “The Media and the Movement,” 26–27.
9 Fay Bellamy Powell, in Holsaert et al., Hands on the Freedom Plow, 475.

10 William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black
Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 71–72; Clayborne
Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1981), 9–12.

11  Frederick Harris, “Will Ferguson Be a Moment or a Movement?,” Washington Post,
August 22, 2014.

12  John Lewis discusses the powerful effect of the Till lynching on him in his memoir,
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (New York: Simon & Schuster,
1998), 57–58.

13 For a full text of the speech, see Lynn Sweet, “Attorney General Eric Holder Remembers
Chicago’s Emmett Till,” Chicago Sun-Times, November 17, 2014.

14  Jerome Hudson, “Eric Holder Compares Michael Brown to Emmett Till: ‘The Struggle
Goes On,’ ” Daily Surge, November 18, 2014, accessed April 5, 2016,
dailysurge.com/2014/11/eric-holder-compares-michael-brown -emmett-till-struggle-goes.

15 Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (New York: Penguin, 1981), 22.
16  Stephen Kantrowitz, “America’s Long History of Racial Fear,” We’re History, June 15,

2015, accessed March 15, 2016, www.werehistory.org/racial-fear.
17 FBI, “Ten Sentenced in Hate Crime Case: Murdered Man among Multiple Victims,” press

release, June 16, 2015, accessed April 10, 2016,

18  Kim Severinson, “Weighing Race and Hate in a Mississippi Killing,” New York Times,
August 22, 2011.

19 Maya Angelou, The Complete Collected Poems (New York: Random House, 1994), 241.
20 Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015), 17–18.
21 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Era of Colorblindness

(New York: New Press, 2010), 6–7, passim.
22 Martin Luther King Jr., “Who Speaks for the South?,” Liberation 2 (March 1958): 13–14.
23  James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, in Toni Morrison, ed., James Baldwin: Collected

Essays (New York: Library of America, 1998), 334.
24  James Baldwin, “As Much Truth as One Can Bear,” in Randall Kenan, ed., James

Baldwin: The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (New York: Pantheon, 2010),

25  William J. Barber II with Barbara Zelter, Forward Together: A Moral Message for the
Nation (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2014).



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“Mrs. Roy Bryant, 9-2-55,” lawyers’ notes. Copy in possession of the author.
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Carolyn Bryant Donham,” unpublished memoir, Timothy B. Tyson Papers, Southern
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Foreign Service Dispatch, American Embassy, Brussels to Department of State, Washington,
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T. R. M. Howard and A. Philip Randolph speeches at Madison Square Garden, May 24,
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A note about the index: The pages referenced in this index refer to the page numbers in the
print edition. Clicking on a page number will take you to the ebook location that corresponds
to the beginning of that page in the print edition. For a comprehensive list of locations of any
word or phrase, use your reading system’s search function.

Abbott, Leroy, 15
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, 211
Abner, Willoughby, 21, 24, 191, 194
Acheson, Dean, 187
Adams, Cornelius, 74
AFL, 191, 194
Africa, 188
Afro-American News Service, 127, 134
Ali, Muhammad, 211
Alinsky, Saul, 19
Anderson, Albert, 74
Anderson, James Craig, 215
Angelou, Maya, 215
Argo, Ill., 25–28, 31, 32
Atlanta, Ga., 78
Aurore, 1

Baker, Ella, 198
Baldwin, James, 203, 217
Baltimore Afro-American, 163
Barlow, E. C., 120
Barnett, Ross, 96
Battle, C. C., 120
Beauchamp, Keith, 53
Belzoni, Miss., 108, 110, 111, 113–15, 121, 199
Bigart, Homer, 181
Bilbo, Theodore, 90, 198
Billingsley, Walter, 148
Birmingham News, 61
Black Lives Matter, 213, 217–18
Black Monday, 76, 78, 174, 188
Black Monday (Brady), 76, 92–94, 102, 214

Citizens’ Councils and, 92, 94
Bond, Julian, 211–12
Booker, Simeon, 70, 110, 111, 134, 138, 139, 142, 191, 194
Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The (Kundera), 210, 214
Braden, Anne, 66
Bradley, Amanda “Mandy,” 143, 148, 163, 205
Bradley, Mamie, see Till, Mamie
Bradley, Pink, 31, 33
Brady, Thomas, 76–79, 89, 91–96, 101, 119–20

Black Monday, 76, 92–94, 102, 214
Breland, J. J., 49, 78, 106, 138, 142, 149, 152, 154–59, 162, 166, 168, 196
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 191, 193, 198
Brown, Frank, 132, 152, 194
Brown, Michael, 212–13
Brownell, Herbert, Jr., 119, 187, 208–9
Brown v. Board of Education, 76–78, 84, 88–90, 91, 92, 94–95, 103, 104, 107, 108, 110,

187–88, 199, 217
Brown II, 104

Bryant, Aileen, 42
Bryant, Carolyn, 1–3, 6, 7, 35–50, 57

Barnes Freeman and, 38–40, 41
beauty of, 1, 40
birth of, 35
childhood of, 35–41
memoir of, 6
J.W. Milam and, 49–50
Mamie’s testimony and, 160
Milam-Bryant family and, 41–42, 44–46, 60, 61
Roy’s marriage to, 43–44, 46–47
Roy’s meeting of, 32
on Strider, 46, 124, 126
Till’s encounter with, 2, 4–7, 9, 11, 51–55, 106, 196, 202, 203
and Till’s kidnapping and murder, 12, 58–62, 206–7
trial testimony of, 4–6, 53, 141, 164–68, 171
trial verdict and, 179–80

Bryant, Doris, 42
Bryant, Eula Lee, 42–46, 48, 49, 141
Bryant, Henry Ezra “Big Boy,” 42–43, 50
Bryant, James, 42
Bryant, Lamar, 47
Bryant, Raymond, 42, 60–61
Bryant, Roy, 42, 43, 47, 210

acquittal of, 179–80, 196, 209
arrest of, 7, 59–61, 124
Carolyn’s marriage to, 43–44, 46–47
Carolyn’s meeting of, 43
J.W.’s relationship with, 50
murder charges against, 64, 127

Smith’s testimony and, 150–51
story of Till’s murder told by, 196–97
Till kidnapped by, 9–12, 53, 56–62, 64, 68, 77, 83, 119, 158
Till murdered by, 2, 45, 58, 64, 77, 78, 120, 196–97, 202–9; see also murder of Emmett

trial of, see Emmett Till murder trial

Bryant, Roy, Jr., 47
Bryant-Milam family, see Milam-Bryant family
Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, 10, 47–48, 57

Till’s encounter with Bryant at, 2, 4–7, 9, 11, 51–55, 106, 196, 202, 203

Caldwell, Hamilton, 126
Calloway, Cab, 198
Campanella, Roy, 15
Campbell, Mary Louise, 42
Campbell, Melvin, 10, 42, 44, 59, 61, 203–4, 207
Carlton, C. Sidney, 122–23, 141, 147, 151, 152, 171–72, 182
Caro, Robert, 131
Carthan, Alma, 25, 28, 31, 32, 57
Carthan, Wiley Nash “John,” 25, 28, 31, 140
Carter, Hodding, Jr., 127, 182–84
Cash, W. J., 97
Charleston church shooting, 214
Chatham, Gerald, 125, 141–42, 145–46, 151–52, 169–71, 181
Chicago, Ill., 13–24, 36

African Americans and segregation in, 5, 14–24, 34, 73, 159
doo-wop scene in, 32
media coverage of Till case in, 57–59, 66, 67–69, 71, 73–75, 156–57
Mississippi and, 16–17, 19, 22, 24, 26, 75, 155, 200–201
Till’s life in, 14–16, 19, 31–34, 155, 159
Trumbull Park Homes in, 20–22, 24, 201
violence in, 17–21

Chicago Daily Tribune, 61
Chicago Defender, 18–19, 67, 72–73, 74, 135, 139, 142, 156–57, 184, 193, 195
Chicago Sun-Times, 67–68, 71
Chicago Tribune, 73, 74, 193
Chicago Urban League, 20
Citizen, 99
Citizens’ Councils, 40, 77, 78, 94–102, 105, 119, 181, 199, 208, 209

Black Monday and, 92, 94
death list of, 106
Evers murder and, 102
founding of, 40, 92, 95–96
growth of, 96–98
in Indianola, 40, 95–96
intimidation, reprisals, and violence by, 99–102, 106, 111, 116, 117, 136
in Mississippi, power of, 98
NAACP and, 98–102

Till murder and, 101, 102
Till murder trial and, 130
voting and, 110, 111, 116, 117

City of New Orleans, 16, 24
civil rights movement, 184

becomes national, 192, 201
communism and, 97, 103
gains of, 215
March on Washington, 186, 191, 195
Montgomery Bus Boycotts, 198–200, 211
Moore’s network in, 84
protests, 5, 190–201, 212
sit-ins, 212, 218
television and, 75
Till’s murder and, 2, 74–75, 106, 133, 190–201, 202
UPWA and, 133
see also segregation and integration; voting rights

Clark, Arthur B., Jr., 95
Clark, Hubert, 10, 203–4, 207
Clarksdale Press Register, 125
Cleveland Call and Post, 135
Coates, Ta-Nehisi, 216
Cold War, 94, 185–88, 193, 198
Collins, Levi “Two Tight,” 137, 138, 203–4, 207
Colmer, William, 94
Committee on Civil Rights, 187
communism, 94, 97, 103, 184–88
Connor, Mike, 89–90
Constitution, 93–94

Fourteenth Amendment to, 92, 119
Fifteenth Amendment to, 109

Cothran, John Ed, 59, 63, 127, 141, 148, 206
testimony of, 151–52

cotton, 89
Courts, Gus, 84, 111, 115–21, 123

attempted murder of, 118–20
Crawford, Roosevelt, 51
Crawford, Ruthie Mae, 51, 53
criminal justice system, 216
Crisis, 18
Current, Gloster, 102

Daily Worker, 139
Daley, Richard, 22–24, 200–201
Davis, Sammy, Jr., 198
Dawson, William, 22–23, 88
Death of Innocence (Till-Mobley and Benson), 5–6, 210
Delta Democrat-Times, 127, 128, 144, 182

Delta State College, 80–81
democracy, 186–87
Democratic Party, 22, 89, 90, 109
Dickens, Charles, 172
Diggs, Charles, 75, 88, 113, 137, 140–41, 175–76, 181

rally of, 190–91
Dittmer, John, 84
Dixiecrats (States’ Rights Democratic Party), 79, 89
Dogan, Harry, 129, 130, 180
domestic workers, 38
drugs, 216
Du Bois, W. E. B., 18, 78, 185, 187
Duncan, Steve, 135

Eagle Eye: The Women’s Voice, 106, 119
Eastland, James O., 79, 96, 98, 198
East St. Louis, Ill., 78
Ebony, 75, 88, 131, 134, 142
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 191, 192, 200–201, 208
Elaine, Ark., 78
Elks’ Rest, 112, 114
Emmett Till murder trial, 2, 4–5, 75, 122–35, 139–43, 144–59, 160–76

Carolyn Bryant’s testimony in, 4–6, 53, 141, 164–68, 171
closing of prosecution’s case in, 163–64
consequences for African American witnesses in, 160–61
Cothran’s testimony in, 151–52
first day of, 123, 129
jurisdiction and, 123–24, 127, 138, 139, 143, 163
jury in, 5, 130, 134, 172
jury retired during Carolyn Bryant’s testimony, 164–66
jury selection in, 129–30, 134, 141, 145
justification for Till’s murder offered in, 164–65, 168
Mamie at, 139–41, 172, 173, 179
Mamie’s testimony in, 152–59, 160–61, 174, 175, 180
Miller’s testimony in, 148–50
Otken’s testimony in, 168–69
protests following, 190–95, 213
reactions to verdict in, 181–89
Reed’s testimony in, 161–64, 174, 175, 205
reporters and photographers at, 128–29, 131–32, 134–35, 146, 179, 181
revealing oddity in, 164–65
Smith’s testimony in, 150–51
spectators and visitors to, 130, 132–34
Strider and, 129, 130, 132, 135, 138, 140–43, 150, 156
Strider’s testimony in, 169
summations in, 169–75
timing of, 123–24
transcript of, 4, 6

UPWA delegation at, 132–34, 152
verdict in, 169, 175–76, 178–81
witnesses called in, 141, 148
Wright’s testimony in, 122–23, 135, 141, 144–48, 152, 161, 174, 175, 217

Europe, 188–89
Evers, Charles, 84–86
Evers, Darrell Kenyatta, 85
Evers, Medgar, 84–86, 88, 99, 105, 106, 111, 113, 116, 117, 120, 173, 192

at Alcorn State College, 85
Lee murder and, 113–14
murder of, 102
speeches of, 195
Till case and, 72, 138, 142, 143

Evers, Myrlie, 85–86, 88, 138

Falgoust, Grace, 133
Faulkner, William, 184–86, 209
FBI, 102, 119, 192

Lee case and, 112, 113, 115
Till case and, 4, 49, 62

Featherston, James, 139, 142
Fifteenth Amendment, 109
Ford, Louis Henry, 68, 73–74
Ford, Percy, 115–17
Fourteenth Amendment, 92, 119
France, 189
Franklin, C. L., 190
Franklin, William B., 135
Frazier, E. Franklin, 28
Frederick, G. C., 8–9
Freeman, Annie, 38
Freeman, Barnes, 38–40, 41
Freeman, Isadore, 38

Gainey, Andrew, 96
Garvey, Marcus, 18
Ghana, 188
Great Migration, 17, 25, 195
Green, Adam, 75
Green, Ernest, 68–69
Green, Lee, 27–28
Greene, Percy, 105
Greenwood Commonwealth, 125, 146, 153
Greenwood Morning Star, 53, 61, 62, 74, 127, 129–30, 182, 183, 200–201

Hall, Rob, 139
Harris, Frederick, 213
Hatcher, Richard, 211

Hawkins, David H., 95
Hayes, Charles, 194
Henry, Aaron, 69, 84, 86, 105, 108

RCNL founded by, 86–87
“Heroes of the South” rally, 198–99
Hicks, James, 127–29, 134, 135, 137–40, 142, 163, 170, 181–82
High, Arrington, 106, 119
Hill, Herbert, 194, 201
Hill, Lindsey, 31–32
Himes, Chester, 209
Hirsch, Carl, 14
Hodges, Robert, 60, 62, 141, 150
Hodges, W. E., 141
Holder, Eric, 213–14
Holloway, Tom, 36, 37, 40, 41
Hoover, J. Edgar, 192
Howard, Donald and Betty, 20–21
Howard, T. R. M., 84–86, 88, 104, 110, 113–15, 120–21, 124, 136, 173, 205

at Madison Square Garden Civil Rights Rally, 198–99
Mississippi underground of, 137–39, 143, 148, 150, 161, 163, 191
Moore and, 86
RCNL founded by, 86–87
speeches of, 191–92, 195, 210–11
Till case and, 125, 136–38, 141–43
Young and, 136–38, 142, 163

Hubbard, Joe Willie, 204
Hudson, Alex, 114
Huie, William Bradford, 1, 3–4, 49, 77, 106, 195–97
Hurley, Ruby, 100, 102, 113–14, 124, 138, 139, 142, 143, 192

imprisonment rates, 216
Indianola, Miss., 40–41

Citizens’ Council in, 40, 95–96
Information Agency, U.S., 188
In Friendship, 198
integration, see segregation and integration
Italy, 188–89

Jackson, David, 75, 134, 142
Jackson, Mahalia, 88
Jackson Advocate, 105, 119
Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 7, 98, 113, 125
Jackson Daily News, 98, 100–101, 102, 106, 109, 128, 129, 139–42, 183
Jet, 70, 72, 75, 114, 131, 142, 211, 212
Jewish Labor Committee, 191
Johnson, Eva, 33
Johnson, James Weldon, 18
Johnson, Otha “Oso,” 204, 207

Johnson, Paul, 172
Jones, Curtis, 9, 13, 57, 65
Jones, Robert, 13
Jones, Willie Mae, 13, 57
Justice Department, 100, 115, 117, 119, 187

Kansas City Star, 135
Kantrowitz, Stephen, 214
Kellum, J. W., 172
Kempton, Murray, 127–28, 130, 135, 142, 146, 147, 153
Kennelly, Martin, 21, 22
Kenyatta, Jomo, 85
Kimbell, Elmer, 10, 204, 207
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 198, 200, 210–11, 216, 217

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 208
Ku Klux Klan, 77, 96, 102, 208
Kundera, Milan, 210, 214

labor unions, 190–92, 194, 200, 201
Ladner, Joyce, 211
Lang, Charlie, 68–69
Lawrence, Ellet, 98
Lee, George, 84, 108, 110–16, 123

murder of, 69, 72, 112–16, 119, 120, 136, 184, 192, 199, 208, 211
Lee, Rose, 110, 114
Lerner, Max, 182
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (King), 208
Levison, Stanley, 198
Lewis, John, 213
Lide, Caleb, 110
Life, 131
Little Rock, Ark., 188
Loggins, Henry Lee, 137, 138, 203–4
Look, 195–96
Luce, Phillip Abbott, 102
Lucy, Autherine, 198
Luton, Savannah, 117–18
Lynch, Sam, 31
lynching, 178

in Greenwood, 26
in Mississippi, 26, 68–69
Till’s murder as, 177–78

Madison Square Garden Civil Rights Rally, 198–99
Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company, 86
March on Washington, 186, 191, 195
Marrow, Henry, 2–3
Mars, Florence, 92

Marsh, Harry, 75, 128
Marshall, Thurgood, 88, 192
McCoy, A. H., 100–101, 113, 115, 120
McDew, Charles, 211
McLaurin, Charles, 81
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 94
Melton, Garland, 62, 141
Memphis Commercial Appeal, 62, 130, 182, 183
Memphis Press-Scimitar, 139, 142
Memphis Tri-State Defender, 122, 128, 134, 143
Meridian Star, 89
Michigan Chronicle, 135
Middle East, 188
Milam, Dan, 42
Milam, Edward, 42
Milam, Harley, 47
Milam, John Williams (J.W.) “Big,” 42, 47–50, 137–39

acquittal of, 179–80, 196, 209
army service of, 48–49
arrest of, 7, 60, 61, 124
birth of, 48
Carolyn Bryant and, 49–50
Cothran’s testimony and, 151–52
murder charges against, 64, 127
Reed’s testimony and, 161, 162
Roy’s relationship with, 50
story of Till’s murder told by, 196–97
Till kidnapped by, 9–12, 53, 56–62, 64, 68, 77, 83, 119, 158, 203–4
Till murdered by, 2, 45, 58, 64, 77, 78, 120, 196–97, 202–9; see also murder of Emmett

Till’s murder justified by, 77, 78
trial of, see Emmett Till murder trial

Milam, Juanita, 47, 49, 50, 141, 167, 168
Milam, Leslie, 42, 137, 139, 142, 161, 204–5, 207
Milam, Spencer Lamar “Buddy,” 42, 60
Milam-Bryant family, 45–46, 50

Carolyn and, 41–42, 44–46, 60, 61
racism of, 44, 49
Strider and, 46, 126
Till kidnapping and, 60

Miller, Chester, 63–65, 141
testimony of, 148–50

Mims, B. L., 62, 150
Mims, Charles Fred, 62, 141
Mims, Jasper, 102
Miranda v. Arizona, 151
Mississippi, 107–21

Chicago and, 16–17, 19, 22, 24, 26, 75, 155, 200–201

Citizens’ Council’s influence in, 98; see also Citizens’ Councils
lynchings in, 26, 68–69
national criticism of, 125–26, 157, 181
Reconstruction in, 77–78, 103
sharecroppers in, 86
social structure in, 44–45
Till’s stay in, 13–14, 16, 24, 33–34, 51, 68, 158–59
violence in, 103

Mississippi State Penitentiary, 36–37
Mississippi underground, 137–39, 143, 148, 150, 161, 163, 191
Mitchell, Jerry, 7
Mitchell, Nannie, 135
Mobley, Gene, 68, 71
Modiest, Tyrone, 31
Montgomery Bus Boycotts, 198–200, 211
Moore, Amzie, 80–84, 102, 121, 142, 192

army service of, 81–83
Howard and, 86
RCNL founded by, 86–87
Till murder trial and, 132, 138, 143
Wright and, 83–84

Moore, Herman, 95
Mooty, Rayfield, 58, 68, 70, 73, 140
Moral Mondays, 218
“More than a Wolf Whistle: The Story of Carolyn Bryant Donham” (Donham), 6
mudsill, 44, 77
murder of Emmett Till, 2, 41, 45, 58, 64, 77, 78, 120, 202–9

audience for, 177–78
body found, 2, 60–64, 84, 102, 123, 125–27
burial and funeral preparations in Mississippi, 64–65
Carolyn Bryant and, 60–61
Citizens’ Council and, 101, 102
civil rights movement and, 2, 74–75, 106, 133, 190–201, 202
contemporary racial violence and, 212–15
funeral, 5, 65, 66, 70–74, 200
Huie’s account of, 1, 3–4, 49, 77, 106, 195–97
impact of, 211–12
injuries in, 5, 63, 64, 75, 205–6
investigation of, 123–24, 137–38, 142–43
jurisdiction and, 64, 123–24, 127, 138, 139, 143, 163
as justified, 77, 78, 164–65, 168, 180, 182, 184
kidnapping in, 9–12, 53, 56–62, 64, 68, 77, 83, 119, 158, 203–4
Lee’s murder and, 113, 184
as lynching vs. murder, 177–78
Marrow’s murder and, 2–3
Milam and Bryant’s account of, 196–97
NAACP and, 72, 74, 125–27, 142, 143, 156, 172–75, 180, 183, 184, 186
open casket and public viewing of body, 5, 70–74

photographs of body printed, 75, 211–12
press coverage of, 57–59, 66, 67–69, 71, 73–75, 125–26, 156–58
search for body, 58, 60
trial of, see Emmett Till murder trial
witnesses to events in, 137–39, 141–43, 163–64, 191, 192, 205

Murdock, Clotye, 134, 142

NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), 18, 21, 22, 24, 68,
69, 83, 84, 91, 92, 97, 102–6, 107, 109, 111, 113, 117, 120, 124, 135, 170, 184, 187, 199,
212, 218

Citizens’ Council and, 98–102
Diggs rally and, 191
donations to, 191, 194, 199
Lee murder and, 113–14
rallies and, 191–95
RCNL and, 87
Strider’s claim of plot by, 126–27, 156, 172–75
Till case and, 72, 74, 125–27, 142, 143, 156, 172–75, 180, 183, 184, 186

Nation, 125, 131, 148
National Negro Press Association, 127, 134, 142
Nelson, C. M., 65–66, 141
Newcombe, Don, 15
New Deal, 89–90
New Republic, 108
Newsome, Moses, 122–23, 143
Newsweek, 131
New York Herald Tribune, 181
New York Post, 61, 128, 130, 135, 182, 189, 209
New York Times, 69, 119, 139, 153, 194
Nixon, E. D., 198

O’Neal-McCrary, Helen, 19
Oshinsky, David, 37
Otken, L. B., 141

testimony of, 168–69
Ottley, Roi, 184

Parchman Farm, 36–37
Parker, Hallie, 30
Parker, Milton, 31
Parker, Thelton “Pete,” 51
Parker, Wheeler, Jr., 9–11, 13, 24, 30, 31, 34, 51, 52, 54, 59
Parker, Wheeler, Sr., 30, 32
Parker, William, 31
Parks, Rosa, 198, 210–11
Patterson, Cora, 186
Patterson, Robert “Tut,” 94, 95–97, 101, 116
Payne, Charles, 85, 98

Pearson, Billy, 132
Perez, Leander, 96
Perkins, J. A., 74–75
Picayune Item, 126
Pikes, Lee, 39
Pittman, Lillian, 133–34
Pittsburgh Courier, 66, 138
Plessy v. Ferguson, 95, 104
PM, 69
Popham, John, 139, 153
Porteous, Clark, 139, 141, 142
Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr., 186, 195, 198
Powell, Fay Bellamy, 212
prisons, 36–37, 216
protest politics, 5, 190–201, 212

Randolph, A. Philip, 186, 191, 193, 198, 199
Ratcliffe, Robert M., 138
Ray, Peck, 112
Rayner, A. A., 70–72
RCNL (Regional Council of Negro Leadership), 86–89, 103, 137, 173

Lee and, 110–11, 113–14
NAACP and, 87

Reader’s Digest, 196
Reconstruction, 77–78, 103
Reed, Add, 143, 148, 163, 205
Reed, Willie, 143, 148, 176, 181, 205

testimony of, 161–64, 174, 175, 205
restrooms, 87–88
Roberts, Isaiah, 68
Robinson, Jackie, 15
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 188, 198
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 89
Rowan, Carl, 188
Rustin, Bayard, 198

St. Louis Argus, 135
Sandburg, Carl, 16
Sanders, Stanny, 61–62, 64, 112, 115
Saturday Evening Post, 183–84
Schneider, E. D., 78
school integration, 3, 76–78, 84, 88–90, 94–96, 100–101, 103–5, 107–8, 173, 184, 199

Brown v. Board of Education, 76–78, 84, 88–90, 91, 92, 94–95, 103, 104, 107, 108, 110,
187–88, 199, 217

Brown II, 104
petitions for, 104–6
resegregation, 217

Scottsboro trials, 192

segregation and integration:
Black Monday and, 92–94
in Chicago, 14, 16–24, 34
Eisenhower on, 208
of lunch counters, 212
miscegenation fears and, 22, 92–93, 96–98
of restrooms, 87–88
of schools, see school integration

Senate Judiciary Committee, 121
servants, 38
Shaw, J. A., 130, 179, 180
Shelton, Ike, 111–13, 115, 118
Shoemaker, W. C., 139, 142
Sillers, Walter, Jr., 79, 91, 92
Simmons, William, 96–97, 99
sit-ins, 212, 218
Skidmore, Matthew, 81
slaves, 93
Sledge, Wilma, 97–98
Smith, Crosby “Sunny,” 30, 31, 56–58, 65, 68, 124
Smith, George, 53, 58–62, 124, 126–27

testimony of, 150–51
Smith, Lamar, 69, 119–20, 136, 184, 192, 199, 208, 211
Smith, Lillian, 97
Smith, Robert B., 141, 148–50, 153–54, 158, 161–63, 168, 169, 174–75, 181
Smith v. Allwright decision on white primaries, 89, 109
SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), 211–12
socialism, 94, 97
Sorrells, Bill, 182
South Deering Bulletin, 22
South Deering Improvement Association, 21, 22
Soviet Union, Cold War with, 94, 185–88, 193, 198
Spencer, Elizabeth, 185–86
Springfield, Ill., 78
State Department, 5, 187–89
States’ Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats), 79, 89
Stewart, Bill, 131
Stokes, Gerald V., 27
Strickland, C. A., 148
Strider, Clarence, Jr., 62
Strider, Henry Clarence (H.C.), 46, 124–25, 163, 175, 204

Milam-Bryant family and, 46, 126
NAACP plot theory of, 126–27, 156, 172–75, 180
Till murder and, 62–65, 123–27
Till murder trial and, 129, 130, 132, 135, 138, 140–43, 150, 156
trial testimony of, 169

Stringer, E. J., 84, 100, 103
Sullens, Frederick, 106

Supreme Court, 93–94, 97, 100, 106, 165, 187, 197, 199
Brown v. Board of Education, 76–78, 84, 88–90, 91, 92, 94–95, 103, 104, 107, 108, 110,

187–88, 199, 217
Brown II, 104
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 94
Miranda v. Arizona, 151
Plessy v. Ferguson, 95, 104
Smith v. Allwright, 89, 109
Sweatt v. Painter, 94

Swango, Curtis M., 127–30, 135, 140–43, 147, 149, 151, 152, 156, 158, 159, 162–66, 169,
179, 181–82

Sweatt v. Painter, 94

Taylor, Donny Lee, 31, 32
television, 75

Till murder trial and, 131–32
Telfor, Marjorie, 133
Thomas, Norman, 198
Thurmond, Strom, 79
Till, Emmett:

baseball playing of, 15–16, 30
birth of, 28
in Chicago, 14–16, 19, 31–34, 155, 159
childhood of, 14–16, 19, 28–34
churchgoing of, 32–33
encounter with Carolyn Bryant at grocery, 2, 4–7, 9, 11, 51–55, 106, 196, 202, 203
in Mississippi, 13–14, 16, 24, 33–34, 51, 68, 158–59
murder of, see murder of Emmett Till
polio of, 11, 30, 31, 33
trial for murder of, see Emmett Till murder trial

Till, Louis, 28, 29
Till, Mamie, 14–16, 25–34, 52, 125, 137, 180, 192, 200, 202, 214, 217

Chicago newspapers and, 57–59, 66, 67–69, 71, 73–75
childhood of, 25–28
death of, 200
at Emmett’s funeral, 73–74
Emmett’s kidnapping and, 57–59
and funeral preparations for Emmett in Mississippi, 65
marriages and name changes of, 5n
marriage to Bradley, 5n, 31, 33
marriage to Louis Till, 5n, 28, 29
memoir of, 5–6, 210
open-casket decision of, 5, 70–73
at rallies, 191–95, 200
and story of little black girl, 26–27
at trial, 139–41, 172, 173, 175–76, 179
trial testimony of, 152–59, 160–61, 174, 175, 180
trial verdict and, 181

Time, 131, 188
Tobias, Channing, 186
Transport Workers Union, 200
Truman, Harry, 79, 187
Trumbull Park, 20–22, 24, 201
Tubb, Thomas, 109
Tulsa, Okla., 78

UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), 18
United Auto Workers, 190, 191
United Nations, 187
United Packinghouse Workers of America, 21
United Steelworkers, 193, 200
University of Alabama, 188
University of Oklahoma Law School, 94
University of Texas Law School, 94
UPWA (United Packinghouse Workers of America), 21, 132–34, 152, 191, 193, 194, 199–201
Urban League, 193

Vicknair, Freida, 133, 134
Vicksburg Post, 105, 125
Voice at the Back Door, The (Spencer), 186
Voice of America, 188
voting rights, 78–79, 83–85, 88–90, 103, 104, 106, 108–12, 114–17, 119, 133, 184, 199,

Citizens’ Councils and, 110, 111, 116, 117
Smith v. Allwright decision on white primaries, 89, 109

Wakefield, Dan, 125, 132, 148
Walton, W. M., 114
Ward, Jason Morgan, 78
Warren, Earl, 78, 208
Washington Afro-American, 154
Washington Post, 213
Watson, Joe David, Sr., 112, 115
Watson, Minnie White, 72
Weber, Ed, 62
Werner, Craig, 20
West, Richard, 114
whipping, 37
Whitaker, Hugh, 180
White, Ernest, 118
White, Hugh, 117, 125, 127, 178
White, J. H., 104
White, Walter, 22, 187
White Citizens Legal Fund, 102
white supremacy, 79–81, 93, 97, 200, 201, 206, 213–17

Charleston church shooting and, 214

internalized, 204, 217
Milam-Bryant family and, 44, 49

Whitten, John W., 5, 172–74
Wilkerson, Isabel, 16
Wilkins, Roy, 106, 111, 113–15, 125–26, 191, 198, 200
Williams, Eugene, 17
Williams, John Bell, 76
Willoughby, Abner, 201
Wilmington, N.C., 78
Wilson, L. Alex, 134, 139, 142
Withers, Ernest, 75, 128–29, 134–35, 146
Woolworth’s, 212
World War I, 18
World War II, 81–82, 84, 186
Wright, Elizabeth, 9–11, 26, 55, 56–57
Wright, Ellis, 100
Wright, Fielding, 79
Wright, Maurice, 9, 11, 51, 54
Wright, Moses, 8–9, 13–14, 24, 26, 34, 51, 55, 173, 179

Moore and, 83–84
at rallies, 194, 195
Till’s body identified by, 63–64, 127
Till’s funeral preparations and, 64, 65
Till’s kidnapping and, 9–12, 56–59, 83
trial testimony of, 122–23, 135, 141, 144–48, 152, 161, 174, 175, 217
trial verdict and, 181

Wright, Richard, 26, 79, 189
Wright, Robert, 9
Wright, Simeon, 9, 51–55, 57

Young, Frank, 136–38, 142, 143, 148, 163–64

Simon & Schuster
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Copyright © 2017 by Timothy Tyson

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Tyson, Timothy B., author.
Title: The blood of Emmett Till / Timothy B. Tyson.
Description: New York : Simon & Schuster, [2017] | Includes bibliographical references and

Identifiers: LCCN 2016021595 (print) | LCCN 2016023098 (ebook) | ISBN 9781476714844

(hardcover) | ISBN 9781476714851 (pbk.) | ISBN 9781476714868 (ebook) | ISBN
9781476714868 (E-Book)

Subjects: LCSH: Till, Emmett, 1941-1955. | Lynching—Mississippi—History—20th century. |
African Americans—Crimes against—Mississippi. | Racism—Mississippi—History—20th
century. | Trials (Murder)—Mississippi—Sumner. | Hate crimes—Mississippi. | United States
—Race relations—History—20th century. | Mississippi—Race relations.

Classification: LCC HV6465.M7 T97 2017 (print) | LCC HV6465.M7 (ebook) | DDC

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016021595

ISBN 978-1-4767-1484-4
ISBN 978-1-4767-1486-8 (ebook)

  • Dedication
  • Epigraph
  • Chapter 1: Nothing That Boy Did
  • Chapter 2: Boots on the Porch
  • Chapter 3: Growing Up Black in Chicago
  • Chapter 4: Emmett in Chicago and “Little Mississippi”
  • Chapter 5: Pistol-Whipping at Christmas
  • Chapter 6: The Incident
  • Chapter 7: On the Third Day
  • Chapter 8: Mama Made the Earth Tremble
  • Chapter 9: Warring Regiments of Mississippi
  • Chapter 10: Black Monday
  • Chapter 11: People We Don’t Need Around Here Any More
  • Chapter 12: Fixed Opinions
  • Chapter 13: Mississippi Underground
  • Chapter 14: “There He Is”
  • Chapter 15: Every Last Anglo-Saxon One of You
  • Chapter 16: The Verdict of the World
  • Chapter 17: Protest Politics
  • Chapter 18: Killing Emmett Till
  • Epilogue: The Children of Emmett Till
  • Acknowledgments
  • About Timothy B. Tyson
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Copyright

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