Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till

"I'm No Bully"

As the clamor for justice and federal intervention continued for several months, Mississippi courts moved to indict Milam and Bryant on kidnapping charges. But there was little enthusiasm for continued prosecution. The notion that Roy Bryant was simply defending his wife's honor from a black man's insult was the prevalent feeling behind closed doors. Despite additional testimony by Moses Wright and other witnesses in Greenwood on November 9, a grand jury declined to indict either Milam or Bryant for kidnapping. They were free men.

Perhaps realizing that they could never be prosecuted again for the murder of Emmett Till, the two defendants decided to go public with their own version of events. In January 1956, they sold their story to Look magazine for $4,000. Writer William Bradford Huie interviewed Milam and Bryant who discussed the murder in all its gory detail. On January 24, 1956, under the headline The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi, Look published their confession.

They admitted taking Till out of Preacher Wright's home on the night of August 28. They said they wanted "to just whip himand scare some common sense into him." Moses Wright tried to reason with Milam and Bryant. "He didn't know what he was doing," he pleaded, "Don't take him!" When the Wright family protested further, Milam said, "You niggers go back to sleep!" They took Till from the house and drove 75 miles around county roads, searching for an appropriate place to beat the boy. They finally took him to Milam's home where a tool shed afforded the most privacy.

There, Milam and Bryant pistol-whipped Till unmercifully. They fractured his skull and inflicted terrible injuries to his eye and nose. But Emmett never cried out, according to Milam. "We were never able to scare him," he told the reporter from Look, "They had just filled him so full of that poison that he was hopeless." Till's resistance infuriated the men even more.

"I'm no bully," Milam said, "I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers. In their place. I know how to work'em. But I just decided it was time a few people were put on notice." They tossed the semi-conscious boy into the back of their pick-up truck and drove over to an industrial area. In the trash at a nearby factory, they found a large electric fan. They threw it onto the truck and headed back out into the delta until they reached the Tallahatchie River near Swan Lake.

"As long as I live and can do anything about it," Milam told the reporter, "niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live! If they did, they'd control the government." The men took Till out of the truck and made him carry the 75 pound fan over to the shores of the river. Bryant and Milam told Till to take all his clothes off until he stood before them naked. "And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman," Milam said to Huie during the interview, "he's tired of living!"

"I just made up my mind," Milam said, "Chicago boy, I said, I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddamn you, I'm gonna make an example of you, just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand." As Till stood next to the fan overlooking the Tallahatchie, Milam asked him, "You still had a white woman?" Till answered, "Yeah." Milam lifted up his .45 caliber automatic handgun and shot the boy point blank in the head above his right ear. The two men then barb-wired the fan to Till's neck and dumped him into the river. After the publication of this extraordinary confession in January 1956, there was another wave of disgust and outrage directed at the court in Sumner, Mississippi.

Years passed. But there was little that could be done. The jury had spoken.

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