Witnesses discount motives cited for slaying of boy

Sept. 10, 1955

GREENWOOD, Miss. — The brutal lynching of a 14-year-old boy, the third act of mob violence to hit Mississippi within five months, has so shocked the nation that even the state’s governor has been moved to speak out.

An avalanche of bitter protests from every section of the nation has forced Gov. Hugh White to promise a complete investigation and a full prosecution of persons responsible for the kidnap-murder of Emmett Louis Till, whose weighted body was found in the Tallahatchie River.


The governor broke his silence to answer a wire sent to him by Roy Wilkins, NAACP executive secretary.

“…ALL DECENT citizens throughout the nation call upon you to use all the powers of your office to see that the lynchers of 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till are brought to justice,” Mr. Wilkins’ message read.

“We cannot believe that the responsible officials of the state of Mississippi condone the murdering of children on any provocation.”

Governor White wired Mr. Wilkins:

“Parties charged with murder are in jail and I have every reason that the courts will do their duty in prosecution. Mississippi does not condone such conduct.”

THE HEINOUS lynching of young Till marked the third crime of its kind in Mississippi since May 7.

Still unsolved is the brutal lynching of Rev. George W. Lee who was shot from ambush in Belzoni, Miss., after he refused to halt his NAACP campaign to get members of his race registered as voters.

Although FBI agents have been investigating the case since the night of the crime, no arrest have been made and no evidence has been carried before a grand jury.

THE SECOND lynching occurred on the crowded courthouse square at Brookhaven, Miss., on August 13.

Lamar Smith, 63-year-old farmer, was shot down by three men as the sheriff looked on, an allegedly made no attempt to halt the lynching.

Smith also had been active in a registration campaign, leading up to the primary election on Aug. 23.

Three men, two farmers and an oilfield worker, were later charged with causing Smith’s death and are now at liberty on $20,000 bail each awaiting trial.

THE THIRD lynch victim, a native of Chicago, was visiting his uncle, Moses Wright, in Money, Miss., when he was kidnapped Aug. 27 by two white men and a woman.


Roy Bryant, a former para trooper, who operates a store; and his half brother, J. W. Milan former Army lieutenant had admitted the kidnapping, but deny having anything to do with young Till’s death.

The two are under arrest on a murder charge, but the woman, Mrs. Bryant, for whom a warrant has been issued, has disappeared.

The boy’s body, when fished from the river, bore the marks of a beating with a heavy instrument. He had also been shot in the head.

THE BODY was weighted down with a gin pulley, a cast iron wheel used to operate a cotton gin. The wheel, about a foot and a half in diameter, weighed 150 to 200 pounds. It was attached to the boy’s body with barbed wire around his waist.

Several motives have been given for the brutal crime.

First reports were Till had used obscene language in addressing Mrs. Bryant, while in the store with several other youths to buy bubble gum.

THIS WAS later amended to the report that he had been “insolent”. The insolence was described as his failure to say “yes ma’m” while addressing the woman.

But this also changed when it became known that Till, since a polio attack at the age of three, had not been able to speak clearly.

Maurice Wright, Till’s cousin, who accompanied him to the store said the boy made a whistling sound in an effort to pronounce his words

This sound, apparently, was misinterpreted by Mrs. Bryant who thought he was giving her a “wolf”  whistle of admiration.

WRIGHT STEADFASTLY denied that his cousin had either  spoken insolently or whistled at Mrs. Bryant.

Later that evening Mrs. Bryant, accompanied by her husband and his half brother, called at the Wright home and demanded the surrender of “that Chicago boy.”

Bryant, witnesses said, had a pistol in his hand. They searched Wright’s house and brought several boys out before Till was carried to the car and identified by Mrs. Bryant.

They drove away.

Bryant and Milan, when arrested later, admitted the kidnapping but had insisted they had released young Till unharmed.

THE TWO MEN who at first were held in the LeFlore county Jail here, were transferred friday to Tallahatchie County where the lynching is believed to have occurred.

A grand jury was scheduled to sit at Charleston, Miss.,  the county seat Tuesday. If an indictment is returned, the trial is not likely to be held until the next term of the circuit court in March.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington said it was keeping close touch with law enforcement officers in Mississippi, but made no move to intervene because apparently no Federal law had been violated.

THE FBI could move in if there was evidence of violation of civil rights laws or that the kidnapping involved crossing state a state line.

In Chicago, Emmett’s mother, Mrs. Mamie Bradley, wept at the news of her son’s lynching.

“I can’t think, I just can’t think”, she said. “He didn’t do anything to deserve that. Somebody is going to pay for this. The entire state of Mississippi is going to pay for this.”

She sobbingly continued: “I can’t work. I have nothing left to work for. My whole life is ruined. Now I need all the financial help I can get. All I want now is to get my boy’s body back and give him a decent burial. Then I’ll have to go to work on this thing.”

“EMMETT WAS a good boy. He was mischievous, but he was not a bad boy,” she said. “He’s never been in any trouble. He’s been my life saver–did the washing, ironing and housework so I could work.”

“He has stood by me like a man. How could anyone do this terrible thing to him?”

The murdered mother, meanwhile, discovered that she had secured of Chicago’s undertaker to bring the boy’s body back to Chicago just in time to prevent a hasty burial in a cemetery at Tutwiler, Miss.

“We had to stop burial down there,” said Mrs. Bradley. “We got word to them just in time.

FRIENDS AND neighbors called at the home of Mrs. Bradley’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Spearman, where Mrs. Bradley took all phone calls during the three-day search for the boy.

Mr. Spearman has been a Chicago resident for 30 years and is a plant guard for Inland Steel Container Co.

Emmett was an eighth grader at the McCosh School. He was born in Chicago and had been in Mississippi only once before on a visit five years ago.

FUNERAL SERVICES, slated for Saturday in Chicago for he lynched boy drew thousands of colored people to the South Side church where his body was put on view.

Mourners and curious filled the 1,700-person capacity Robert’s Temple Church of God where the body of Emmett was taken was taken Saturday morning from an undertaking chapel. Outside the church, an estimated 10,000 persons stood in long lines waiting to view the body.

Funeral Postponed

Viewers filing past the youth’s casket looked down on the disfigured face which a Mississippi sheriff said earlier appeared to have been struck with an ax because “it went too deep to be anything else.

The casket was open to public view at the insistence of the boy’s mother Mrs. Mamie Bradley, 33, against the advice of the undertakers. Mrs. Bradley said she wanted others “to see what they did to my boy.”

BURIAL SERVICES originally scheduled for Saturday, were postponed at a later hour until Tuesday.

The Rev. Isaiah Roberts, pastor of the church, said Mrs. Bradley had requested the postponement. He said the body will remain on view Sunday and Monday.

About 30 policemen kept the crowd in lines as the curious made their way into the church for a glimpse of the body. Several women fainted in the church.

As the lines move past the casket, a minister in the pulpit urged the viewers to contribute to a fund set up by the NAACP.

Two men sitting at table near near the casket collected the contributions.


Adams of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church told the crowd the funds would be used “so that this will not happen again.”

“Pamphlets were passed out in front of the funeral last night telling us what to do,” Adams said. “These pamphlets were passed out by Communitists.”

He added: “Pay them no heed.” he added, “We don’t need Communists.”

Last night a crowd estimated at 15,000 to 50,000 filed past the casket in a South Side undertaking chapel between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. The undertaker, A. A. Rayner, made the 50,000 estimate. Police made the lower estimate.

Police said the crowd was orderly although a front window of the chapel was accidently pushed in as the throng surged forward.