California Eagle, Thursday, February 2, 1956


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Milam Master-Minded

Emmett Till Killing

 

BY AMOS DIXON

 

(This is the second of a series of articles, written by a southern newspaper man, telling the true story of the murder of 14 year-old Emmett Till in Tallahatchie county, Miss. last August 28. The truth differs from a story told by J. W. Milam to Look Magazine in which he claimed that he and his brother, Roy Bryant, killed Emmett for insulting Roy’s wife, Carolyn.)

 

 

Here Is What’s Gone Before

 

In the opening installment [sic.] of this series last week the writer explained how a Negro hanger-on told Roy Bryant that Emmett Till had wolf-whistled at Carolyn, Roy’s wife, at a family-run crossroads store in Money, Miss., on Aug. 24. Carolyn didn’t hear the whistle. Roy was out of town at the time. When he heard the story on Aug. 26 (Friday) he told it to J. W. Milam, bully-boy of the Milam-Bryant clan.

 

Emmett, a 14-year-old Chicago lad, was staying with his great uncle, Mose Wright. Early Sunday morning, Aug. 28, J. W. took Roy, two other Milam brothers and Henry Lee Loggins, his Negro employee, to Mose’s house. Mose opened the door when Roy called him. Now go on with the story...

 

 

 

Although it was Roy Bryant who shouted to Mose Wright to open the door, it was J. W. Milam who barged into Mose’s four-room cabin near Money, Miss., that dreadful early Sunday morning, Aug. 28. That figures.

 

The whole affair was J. W’s show. He planned the raid on Mose’s home. He planned the kidnapping. He planned the pistol whipping that Emmet[t] was to get. He took the kidnapers to Mose’s home in his truck. He brought his Negro employe[e], Henry Lee Loggins, to guard the boy on the long ride he had planned. He would ultimately fire the fatal shot that would kill 14-year-old Emmett.

 

When J. W. swaggered into Mose Wright’s cabin with a .45 in one hand and a flashlight in the other, he said he had “come for that boy from Chicago who had done that smart talk at Money.” It was about 2 a. m.

 

Fears for Son

 

In a sense, Mose was relieved. He was afraid that the men “could be coming for Simmy, that’s what I call my youngest boy.” Mose tried to stall for time. Let him tell it:

 

“Our home had four rooms,” he said, “and two rooms on the side but there wasn’t a light on in the whole house. Mr.

 

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Milam was shining his flashlight and I walked him into a bedroom where two of the boys were asleep, and through that into the vacant room, and finally into one of the side rooms where Bobo and Simmy was.”

 

J. W. shone’ his flashlight into Emmett’s eyes. Mose shook him.

 

“Are you the boy who was over at the grocery?” J. W. wanted to know.

 

Emmett rubbed his eyes and said “yes.” That infuriated J. W. In the Deep South Negroes didn’t say “yes” to white men; they say “yes sir.”

 

“Don’t say ‘yes’ to me or I’ll knock hell out of you,” Milam shouted at the frightened youngster.

 

Elizabeth Wright, Mose’s wife, heard the noise. She jumped from her bed.

 

Offers to Pay

 

“Mister,” Mrs. Wright pleaded, [“]don’t bother the boy. We will pay you. We will pay you money.”

 

J. W., the bully-boy who had learned to hate in Mississippi and who had been taught to kill in the army, was enjoying his role now.

 

“You get back in bed,” he threatened Mose’s wife, “and when you get back, I want to hear those springs ring.” (Mose would testify to that threat in the trial and the courtroom would rock with laughter. Nobody laughed louder than J. W. Milam, on trial for hsi [his] life.)

 

Emmett, cowed and frightened, pulled on his clothing, his shoes and socks and, to let Mose tell it, “walked out without saying another word.”

 

J. W. tossed one final threat at Mose. He asked Wright how old he was. Mose replied that he was 64. “You’ll never live to be 65 if you tell anybody that you know any of us,” the bully snarled.

 

Strangely enough, Mose didn’t know any of them.

 

Would Know Him

 

But he did get a good look at J. W. He said he could see “Mr. Milam’s bald head. I would know him again anywhere, I would know him if I met him in Texas.”

 

Didn’t Know Them

 

Roy Bryant, Mose explained later, had been running the store in Money only a few months and “I didn’t trade with him.” But Roy Bryant spoke up when Mose opened the door. “I’m Roy Bryant,” he said.

 

There was another man a few feet behind Roy, standing by the porch. He covered his face with his hands and Mose could not recognize him. That man was Leslie Milam, J. W. Milam’s full brother. Roy’s half brother, who lives near Drew in Sunflower county. Emmett would be beaten into unconsciousness in Leslie’s “headquarters barn.”

 

There was another man in the cab of J. W.’s truck—the other Milam brother who was to take part in the dance of death that would be enacted before the sun came up. Henry Lee Loggins, a Negro, was lolling around in the back of the truck.

 

Just Stood There

 

Why didn’t Mose do something in that hour of crisis? He did do something. He stood on his front porch “a long time and looked off in the way of Money.” Money, where Roy Bryant’s store was; Money where the whole thing started as a kid’s prank.

 

Mose’s wife ran to a neighbor for help. She got none. She came back crying and vowing to leave Mississippi forever. A few days later she did just that.

 

Anyhow, all Mose did that awful Aug. 28 morning was just “look off in the way of Money.”

 

To understand why Mose didn’t do anything except just look off in the “way of Money” you have to understand something about Mississippi, something about its history, something about its geography, something about its present. Understand that and you’ll pity Mose, not blame him.

 

Mose was born and raised in the rich Mississippi Delta, that great expanse of low lying, fantastically rich soil built up over the ages by the Mississippi and the rivers that flow into it.

 

Outnumber Whites

 

Negroes outnumber whites two to one, three to one, four to one, in Delta counties. About 70 per cent of Le Flore’s population is Negro; the percentage is just slightly less in Sunflower and Tallahatchie counties.

 

There are no Negro voters in those counties. Those who want to vote dare not complain. The Rev. George Lee was killed just four months prior to the Till murder for trying to keep his name of the register’s rolls in Humphreys county, which adjoins  Le Flore, and Sunflower counties on the South. The sheriff was riding in the death car.

 

Schools for Negroes are a joke in those counties too. They are only slightly better for whites. Ignorance broods over the Mississippi Delta, planned ignorance, planned to keep the Negro “in his place,” planned to bolster up the plantation system.

 

It has been that way ever since there was a Mississippi, away back in 1817, Mississippi is Jefferson Davis’ state, a state where Negro slaves were bred like cattle and died like flies to keep the plantation system going.

 

The Same as Ever

 

A Congressional Committee (like the one Eisenhower just proposed), sat in Mississippi in 1870 and heard sworn testimony that more than 40 Negroes had been killed and hundreds more whipped in the preceding six months to keep them from voting. It heard that their schools had been burned and their teachers driven out to keep them from learning and getting “uppity.”

 

The pattern hasn’t changed in the 85 years since 1870 and that pattern has molded men like Mose Wright. Men afraid to vote. Men afraid to speak up for their rights. Men afraid to be men.

 

It has been worse since that May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court struck at the Jim Crow system by ordering the end of segregated schools. Newspapers, ministers, judges, lawyers, governors, lawmakers have shaken their fists and dared the Supreme Court to enforce its order, dared Negroes to ask for enforcement.

 

So Mose Wright, stunned, afraid, just “looked off in the way of Money.”

 

There was a glimmer of hope, too. J. W. told him as Emmett Till was being kidnapped that the boy was just going to be whopped. And, as Mose said later, “lots of times they whip colored children.”

 

Loggins Guards Boy

 

J. W. and Roy hustled Emmett on the back of the truck where he was put in charge of Henry Lee Loggins—28 year-old Henry Lee who was J. W.’s “boy” who had worked for J. W. since he was 16, like Mose Wright, a product of Mississippi’s Jim Crow system.

 

The three Milams and Bryant got in the cab of the truck—none of them would ride with a Negro, of course—and J. W. drove to his own place in Glendora, which is just over the line in Tallahatchie county.

 

When he confessed the killing in Look Magazine, J. W. claimed that Emmett was killed because he was bold and defiant on that ride and boasted that he had “had white women” and was “as good as you are.”

 

That’s not the truth. Emmett was both frightened and stunned. Nothing in his experience had prepared him for what was happening to him. Add to that the fact that he had a speech defect growing out of an attack of infantile paralysis and that he wasn’t too alert mentally. He crawled back into a shell of fear.

 

Shocked and frightened he was surly, out of ignorance and fear, not out of bravado. Loggins kept up a running fire of comment about what was going to happen to him. If Emmett had been born in Mississippi he would have known how to grovel and beg and whine as Negroes are sometimes forced to do. He didn’t even know how to do that.

 

Go to Glendora

 

The truck rolled into J. W.’s place in Glendora. The Milams and Bryant, contrary to what Milam told Look, started drinking. The cuffed Emmett around, bedeviled him, threatened him, told him they were going to kill him. Tragedy was building up because they mistook the handicapped boy’s stunned silence as defiance. In their minds he was uppity, because he didn’t grovel and whine. That is the worst sin a Negro can commit in the eyes of a white man like J. W. Milam. Then, probably because Glendora was too close to Money, and befuddled by drink, they decided to go to Leslie Milam’s place in adjoining Sunflower county. Loggins was still with them.

 

For some reason that isn’t clear, Loggins told them he needed help to restrain Emmett on that trop to Drew. Henry Lee knew just the man. The Milams drove him to a Negro all-night juke joint in Glendora. Loggins got help—a Negro named Willie Hubbard.

 

Up to that time Emmett had not been seriously injured. But the morning was wearing away. It was about five o’clock. Something had to be done. The boy wasn’t knuckling under. He was still “uppity.” That something was a pistol whipping which was to be administered at Leslie Milams place. The green Chevrolet truck careened out on the road, away from Glendora to Drew, which lies almost due east some 20 miles away.

 

There were six men on the truck. The three Milam brothers and Bryant in the cab and Henry Lee Loggins and Willie Hubbard on the back guarding Emmett Till. The feel of death was in the air, death for handicapped, 14-year-old Emmett Till who didn’t know how to knuckle under to a white bully who had learned to hate in Mississippi and who had been taught how to kill in a war fought to preserve democracy.

 

(Next week: We will tell exactly what happened in Leslie Milam’s headquarters barn in Drew, Miss., and the truth of what happened on the bank of the Tallahatchie river where J. W. Milam fired a .45 slug through Emmett Till’s addled brain.) 

 

 

 

Installment One: 26 January 1956

 

Installment Two: 2 February 1956

 

Installment Three: 9 February 1956

 

Installment Four: 16 February 1956

 

Installment Five: 23 February 1956

 

Emmett Till