Journalist William Huie Concealed Lynchers In Emmett Till Case And Got Away With ItBreaking News
tags: civil rights, Jim Crow, lynching, Emmett Till, Mississippi
Books, documentaries, and an FBI investigation detail the abduction, torture and murder of Emmett Till 66 years ago, but one suspect in the case has never been identified.
On the night of Emmett Till’s abduction, torture and murder, men and a woman took him from his Uncle Moses Wright’s home. At least two Black men kept him from jumping off the back of the 1955 green and white Chevy pickup that transported him. At least four white men beat, pistol whipped and shot the boy point blank in the head, killing him. They then tied a cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire and threw his naked body into a muddy bayou that spilled into the Tallahatchie River.
The late journalist William Bradford Huie created a different narrative—a lie—that most of us believe. In 1955, over a year after the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision had overturned separate-but-equal precedent, and just two months before Rosa Parks would change civil rights forever on a Montgomery bus, Huie sat in the law office of J.J. Breland and John Whitten. The men were two of the five defense counsel for two of Till’s killers—J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. The two men had already been tried and acquitted of Till’s murder.
Then, Huie and their attorneys negotiated a deal where the killers would tell him details of their crimes. It would be the first time any of them had done so publicly, and what a sensation it would be. But there was a problem.
As Dave Tell points out in his book, “Remembering Emmett Till,” Huie needed releases from the murderers to indemnify Look magazine from litigation. But he couldn’t get four. He could only get two. So, he made his story fit his resources. He shrank the kidnapping and murder party to two and moved the murder scene as a consequence. So, instead of telling readers the truth—that Till’s lynchers killed him in a barn on a plantation run by Leslie Milam, a member of the killing party whom Huie concealed—he claimed J.W. Milam and Bryant beat Till near J.W. Milam’s home and shot him to death on the Tallahatchie River’s bank.
Like others, I first noticed Huie’s deception when I compared letters he had written to different people over the course of 11 days. In a letter to NAACP leader Roy Wilkins on Oct. 12, 1955, Huie wrote: “Two other men are involved: there were four in the torture-and-murder party. And if I name them I must have their releases—or no publisher will touch it. I know who these men are: they are important to the story; but I have to pay them because of their ‘risks.’”