Time Bomb (1956)
The following is excerpted from a booklet written by Olive Arnold Adams and published in Mississippi in February 1956. Adams, the wife of Julius Adams, publisher of the New York Age Defender, here provides an outlet for Dr. T. R. M. Howard’s version of the Emmett Till murder, including accomplices of J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Howard had already spoken publicly of the tip he received from Frank Young about the beating of Till at the Sheridan Plantation near Drew, Mississippi, and of the witnesses to Till’s screams in the barn. For whatever reason, Adams used pseudonyms for three black men involved in the story, even though their real names were appearing simultaneously in Amos Dixon’s California Eagle articles (also included on this site). In Time Bomb, Henry Lee Loggins is called “Wiggins,” Joe Willie Hubbard becomes “Herbert,” and Frank Young is “Fred Yonkers.” In their forthcoming biography of Howard, Drs. David Beito and Linda Royster Beito compare and contrast the Adams and Dixon pieces, and provide information pointing to Howard as a primary source for both. Adams agrees on many details with Dixon, but the two also differ. As with Dixon, Adams rejects the implications in Milam and Bryant’s “confession” to William Bradford Huie, as published in Look Magazine, that they acted alone. Howard’s introduction is here reprinted, followed by the portion of the booklet that deals with the Emmett Till case.
And the Full Story of Emmett Till
OLIVE ARNOLD ADAMS
With a Foreword by
DR. T. R. M. HOWARD, Founder-President
The Mississippi Regional Council
of Negro Leadership
A time bomb is ticking away in my Mississippi. I have watched its human elements at close range for fourteen years. Its casement was made many years ago, but the most devastating elements have been placed in the mechanism during the last eighteen months. The catalytic agent was supplied by the May 17, 1954 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America which rightfully declared that racial segregation in public schools in [is] unconstitutional.
In my Mississippi, the White Citizens Council and a team of activating specialists are putting the deadly weapon together. Frightful methods of intimidation, dastardly boldness in disenfranchising Negro citizens, total disregard of the 14th and 15th Amendments to our federal Constitution, terror, murder, violence, and economic pressure, are some of the explosive elements that are being put into the bomb.
There are now an estimated 986,000 Negroes in Mississippi, but fewer than 20,000 of them are registered voters. Today, 93 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Negroes can vote in only 22 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. The officials of the White Citizens Council of Mississippi stand for a violent white supremacy crusade to nullify the historic edict of the United States Supreme Court, and have declared that they will resort to any means to keep the Negro in a position of political and economic servitude. Their emphasis on disenfranchisement should make every American aware of the power of the vote. It should make us all the more determined to use it wisely once we secure it. Those who are not denied it, should cherish it. Those who are denied it, must carry on a relentless battle to acquire it. It is their salvation. Fortunately for us, the Negro in Mississippi, as well as the Negro throughout the rest of the nation, still has faith in the American concept of democracy, and in our Federal Government.
In our forthcoming book, “The Gathering Storm Along the Mississippi,” which will appear in the Spring of 1957, the entire race problem in Mississippi will be discussed. In this work, “Time Bomb,” Olive A. Adams has given a “bird’s eye view” of Mississippi, U.S.A, today. Her story of the Emmett Till case has come from Negroes “in the know” in Mississippi. Her entire discussion should give every reader additional information about what is going on inside Mississippi.
I am particularly gratified that she chose to point out that there are decent elements also in my Mississippi and in other parts of the South, because it is my personal conviction that at least 20% of the
white people in Mississippi are not in sympathy with the aims and deeds of the White Citizens Council. Unfortunately, these people have not been able to organize this sentiment, because they do not command the public platform, and therefore are not heard.
In my Mississippi, no one in authority has said, up to this hour, that one year from now, ten years from now, or then thousand years from now, the people will comply with the Supreme Court’s May 17th edict. The officials in Mississippi say loudly and boldly that they will never comply! If this be their stand, then I predict that the Federal Government in 1956 will find itself faced with the same issue with reference to Mississippi that she faced in 1860–namely, total disregard for federal authority.
The time bomb ticks on toward its final minutes. An aroused Mississippi Negro stands his ground, unprotected by law, but thank God, at last unafraid. He has stopped running and mindful of the portent of the ticking, is praying that before it is too late, the decent elements of our citizenry in Mississippi and throughout this great nation, will join hands and de-activate the deadly weapon before it explodes with terrific force, causing unparalleled devastation to the innocent and guilty alike.
T.R.M. HOWARD, M.D.
President and Founder
The Mississippi Regional
Council of Negro Leadership
EMMETT LOUIS TILL—HIS STORY
“For they eat the bread of wicked-
ness, and drink the wine of violence.”
The Southerner is a proud soul. He is sure Almighty God smiled with particular favor upon his beloved Southern homeland, and he boasts of its natural beauty, its fine people, its pioneers, its history. Even a Negro living in virtual serfdom displays passionate loyalty to his section of the country, and he is not likely to be outdone by anybody in praise of his native state.
It was only natural, therefore, that the Reverend Moses Wright of Mississippi when visiting Chicago last August—and while showing proper respect for the Merchandise Mart, the Loop, and the view form the Tribune Tower—felt constrained to boast a little too. Nowhere in the whole world, he was willing to wager, would one find such a fisherman’s paradise as the spot near his home in Mississippi. Within the proverbial stone’s throw from his cabin, he declared, there are four rivers—the Tallahatchie, the Sunflower, the Yalobusha, and the Yazoo. There are also about seven deep lakes, and the fisherman is always rewarded with a good catch.
Reverend Wright’s word picture recalled to the mind of his nephew, Emmett Louis Till, still another virtue of the minister’s Delta home. Emmett loved farm animals, and on two previous visits to his Uncle’s farm, he had enjoyed feeding the cows and chickens. Mississippi seemed a perfect vacation spot, and Emmett and his cousin, Wheeler Parker, launched a campaign to get permission to spend the rest of the summer there. The boy’s parents fell in with the idea, and it was agreed that when Reverend Wright returned to Mississippi the latter part of the month, the two boys would go with him.
Emmett was eagerly looking forward to the trip. His mother, Mrs. Mamie Bradley, was happy that Emmett could spend the last two weeks of his vacation in the fresh air and sunshine, fishing and loafing—a perfect ending to a mercilessly hot summer. She had been gratified to watch Emmett develop into a strapping youth. Stricken with polio when he was very young, he had been a frail youngster with a pronounced impediment in his speech. This had left Emmett shy and sensitive, but he was beginning to overcome his reticence, although he still stammered noticeably. It had been hard not to coddle Emmett, and his mother
thought this vacation jaunt away from her would be good for him. She was glad that Reverend Wright was willing to take the boys, because she had stated emphatically that she would not let Emmett travel alone.
Arrangements were made for the boys to leave with Uncle Moses on Saturday, August 20. The party was to board the train at La Salle Station in downtown Chicago, but Emmett was slightly delayed in his last minute preparations for the trip and his mother had send word that he would join them at Englewood Station.
When the train pulled in at Englewood, Emmett was nowhere in sight. His Uncle Moses and Cousin Wheeler searched frantically for him. Reluctantly, they got back on the train when the conductor called “All Aboard,” and had just about given up all hope, when they heard a bustling at the far end of the platform. It was Emmett. With the help of his mother, the porter and the conductor, he scrambled onto the last car just in time. The three were happily reunited, and many times during the long trip South, they talked of Emmett’s good fortune in not having missed the train that was to take him on such a grand adventure.
* * *
No one has thought to ask if Emmett Till enjoyed fishing in the Tallahatchie River. The very question conjures up a grisly picture of his mutilated body which was found floating in the Tallahatchie, with feet in the air, his neck secured to a cotton gin fan with a length of barbed wire.
The events leading up to this horrible discovery are astonishing. Millions of Americans were shocked, but many of them, well-meaning, assumed that Emmett Till must have done something to provoke punishment. Those who believe this are simply not acquainted with the savagery of the South. All Emmett Till had to do to arouse the ire of a backyard Southerner was simply to be Emmett Till—a Northern Negro, well dressed, with a little vacation money to spend, and an air of security and confidence. This is enough to make “white trash” see red. It might give local Negroes “ideas.”
The nauseating stories of the mock trial which resulted in clearing those accused of Till’s murder, and the subsequent refusal of the grand jury to indict the two for the kidnapping they admitted, are now well know. Everyone suspected at the outset that Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam killed Emmett Till. They knew that the mores of the South prevented true justice. The recent boastful confession attributed to the two men in a national magazine article supports that conclusion. Their story probably set very well with others of their kind, and may even have convinced some people that at least Emmett Till was a fresh young upstart who had made improper advances toward a white woman, boasted about it, and stood his ground even at gun point, this justifying his murder…at least in the minds of some Southerners. This, of course, was just
more vicious propaganda, aimed at fitting Emmett Till into the “sexually depraved” category among the stereotypes into which Negroes are so often cast. It was an obvious attempts to dream up a crime to fit the punishment.
The fact is that the true, official Emmett Till story will never come to light until the day when the Mississippi Negro is free…when the laws that protect murderers also protect him…when he can appear on the witness stand, tell the truth, and be believed, without having to be spirited away from his home for fear of reprisals.
The principal witnesses for the prosecution in the Till case were Reverend Moses Wright, Mrs. Amanda Bradley, and 18-year-old Willie Reed. The appearance of Negroes in court, testifying against white men, in an atmosphere charged with racial tension and hatred, was entirely new in the recent history of the South. Despite threats and intimidation, they stuck to their story, which was never categorically denied, since Bryant and Milam did not appear on the witness stand in their own defense. Willie Reed, now relatively safe in his self-imposed exile from Mississippi, has been able to throw some additional light on some of the events and incidents attested to in court by other witnesses. There are still others who remained in Mississippi and who have information, but who were never permitted to present it in court, and are now afraid to do so, for fear of their lives.
This is the story told in whispers about the case of Emmett Till. It does not come from Milam and Bryant, but from God-fearing, law-abiding citizens. The story has been gathered from talks with relatives of eye-witnesses to certain phases of the crime, and from eye-witnesses themselves. It is repeated here as a running narrative, sometimes from the vantage point of the defendants, sometimes from the vantage point of a witness. Regardless of court records or “confessions,” this is the story that has already become the Till legend:
Emmett Till, his cousin Wheeler Parker, and Uncle Moses Wright arrived in Mississippi on Sunday, August 21. On the following Wednesday, Emmett, Wheeler, Maurice and Simeon Wright, his Mississippi cousins, Ruthie Mae Crawford, and three other local boys decided to go to the country store to buy a treat. They drove the 2.8 miles from Reverend Wright’s humble cabin to Bryant’s store in Reverend Wright’s aged Ford. When they arrived, there were four men on the porch, two of them in the midst of a checker game. The boys looked on for a while and then Emmett offered to treat his pals. They all wanted bubble gum and Emmett went in to buy some. Simeon Wright went with Emmett to the door and waited outside the door while Emmett made the purchase and put the money, in the exact amount, on the counter. As he was leaving the store, Emmett turned and before opening the screen door said, in his characteristic stammer:
The local boys laughed at Emmett’s stutter and as they walked down the steps and away from the store, one of them was heard to say:
“Bobo, don’t you know you’re not supposed to say goodbye to a white woman?”
Another said, “But she was good lookin’, wasn’t she?
At that remark, Bobo puckered up and attempted to whistle. By that time, they were several yards from the store and no one else was in sight.
The boys went back to the store Friday and nothing was said in reference to their previous visit. It is believed, however, that the whistle incident was marked by one of the men who was within earshot. It is believed such a person may have sought a favor, or perhaps easy credit at the store, by distorting the story for the benefit of Roy Bryant who had been out of town during the week. The story apparently was well received by Bryant. It had all the ingredients to rile a southern white man—a Northern Negro had come into their midst…a symbol of Northern superiority and Northern interference. This called for action.
At 2 A.M. Sunday, August 28, Roy Bryant, his half-brother, J. W. Milam, and two other persons, drove to Reverend Wright’s cabin in a green Chevrolet pickup truck with the white top. Bryant and Milam went to the door. A person “with a little voice lighter than a man’s” stayed in the truck, and the other, identified as a Negro, lurked outside.
Bryant and Milam knocked at the door and called, “Preacher.”
When Reverend Wright asked who was there, Bryant answered,
“This is Mr. Bryant from up at the store.”
Reverend Wright opened the door and Milam pressed a gun against the minister’s stomach and forced his way in, followed by Bryant.
“We came for the boy from Chicago,” he said. Going in to the bed in which Emmett Till was sleeping, he demanded.
“Are you from Chicago?”
“Yes,” said Emmett.
Milam was indignant and said, “Did you say ‘yes’ to me? If you say ‘yes’ to me again, I’ll knock your -------- brains out. Get up and put your clothes on.”
Emmett got up and put on his shirt and trousers, and his new pair of leather-soled loafers. Reverend and Mrs. Wright pleaded with Bryant and Milam not to take the boy out. They said that if he had done anything he should be punished for, he would get a whipping, but they begged the men not to take the boy away.
(At the time of their arrest as suspects, Sheriff George Smith reportedly told newspapermen that Bryant and Milam had said they took Emmett from his uncle’s home to question him about the “wolf-whistle” incident, but that they later turned him loose.)
Bryant and Milam took Emmett to the waiting truck, where he was identified as the boy who had been to the store the previous Wednesday. Milam, Bryant, and “the person with the light voice” who was thought to be a woman, got into the cab of the truck, and the Negro, whom we shall call “Wiggins” for the purpose of identification in this story, got into the back of the truck and was holding Emmett as if to keep him from getting away. The truck headed toward Money, where it was next seen. Later, it was seen in Glendora. The woman was no longer in it, but there were four white men in the cab, all of whom appeared to have been under the influence of intoxicating liquor. At one point, “Wiggins” had been left in the back of the truck with Till. Emmett had apparently become apprehensive and was difficult to handle. “Wiggins” is said to have asked for help in keeping the boy quiet, saying that he didn’t think he could keep him from getting away. At a Negro night-spot in Glendora, they picked up another Negro named “Herbert” to help control the boy.
When the green Chevrolet pickup truck with the white top pulled out of Glendora early that Sunday morning, it had seven occupants—four white men were in the front, and Emmett Till, “Wiggins” and “Herbert” were in the back.
At 6:00 A.M., the green pickup truck made its way into Sunflower County, some 25 miles from Glendora, in the direction of the plantation managed by J. W. Milam’s brother, Leslie.
This was too early for many people to be stirring, but 18-year-old Willie Reed had been awakened at the crack of dawn. His grandfather had forgotten to buy fresh meat for Sunday’s dinner, and Willie was sent to the store to get some. The country store is approximately 2 miles from the Reed home by way of the asphalt road, but it is about 1 ¼ miles if one takes a shortcut across Leslie Milam’s plantation.
When Willie Reed neared the dirt road that leads to the headquarters barn on Leslie Milam’s plantation, he met the green Chevrolet pickup truck with the white top. He recognized two of the white men, but did not have a chance to see who the other two men were in the front seat. As the truck turned in at the plantation, it passed immedi-
ately in front of Willie Reed and he looked into the back of the truck directly into the face of Emmett Till. Emmett was seated with his back to the cab of the truck, flanked by “Wiggins” and “Herbert.” Willie Reed was, therefore, the last person not connected with the crime to see Emmett Till alive.
As Willie Reed cut across the field, he heard a boy crying from inside the headquarters barn: “Lord, have mercy! Mama, save me!”
He also heard blows landing on a body. They sounded as if they were made with a heavy object such as the handle of a hoe or the butt of a pistol. Willie also heard men’s voices cursing and yelling, “Get down, you black bastard.”
Willie became frightened and did not go to the barn, but went around it, to the home of Mrs. Amanda Bradley about 100 yards or more away. Mrs. Bradley was preparing Sunday breakfast. A family friend, “Fred Yonkers,” was also there.
“Aunt Mandy, who are they beatin’ down at the barn? Willie asked.
The Milam brothers are famous for their “pistol whuppin’” and the sound of some Negro being roughed up by the Milam gang was not new to her. So she said:
“I don’t guess they’re beatin’ anybody, Willie.”
“But Aunt Mandy,” Willie insisted, “it sounds like they’re beatin’ somebody to death down there!”
Mrs. Bradley immediately emptied the water bucket and asked Willie to go to the well, which was near the barn, and fetch her some water.
“But I’m afraid to go down there,” Willie pleaded.
At this point, “Mr. Yonkers” took the bucket and together he and Willie Reed went to the well. On the way, they heard the cries again and again. They also heard the blows being struck. While they were at the well drawing the water, the cries grew fainter and fainter, and then there were no more.
As they started back to the house, they saw J. W. Milam, wearing khaki trousers and a yellow shirt with an open collar, come out of the storage room of the headquarters barn. He wore a pistol in a holster at his right side. He went to the same well and got a drink of water. When he went back to the storage room, the other three white men joined him. Shortly after this conference, a tractor near the side door of the storage room was moved and the green Chevrolet pickup truck with the white top was backed up to the side door.
By this time, Willie Reed and “Fred Yonkers” had retreated to the seclusion of Mrs. Bradley’s kitchen, and with Mrs. Bradley they were watching the proceedings from the kitchen window. They saw what they believed to be a body placed in the back of the truck. They saw a tarpaulin thrown over it. Then they saw the truck as it pulled out.
While the truck was on its way, movement was detected under the tarpaulin. Numerous efforts were made by private individuals to determine what actually happened after the truck left the Milam plantation. John H. Sengstacke, publisher and editor of the Chicago Defender, interested himself in the case. Through one of his editors, Alex Wilson of Memphis, Tennessee, he succeeded in getting a young Negro, “Too Tight” Collins, out of Mississippi and to Chicago, where he was questioned at length about the case by the Defender’s Counsel, Col. Euclid Louis Taylor. However, Collins failed to shed any material light on the murder. Both Taylor and Sengstacke said they believed Collins knew more than he was willing to tell. In the investigation the Defender group learned that another Negro, Henry Lee Loggins, would be able to tell an “interesting story” if he would talk, but neither Wilson or anyone else could persuade Loggins either to leave Mississippi or to give them any information for publication.