Oct. 8, 1955
New York, N.Y. – Here for the first time is the true story of what happened in the hectic five day trial of two white men in Sumner, Mississippi, for the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till of Chicago.
Emmett Till’s mother “…I have invested a son in freedom”
This story has never been written before. I did not write it in Mississippi, for fear of bodily harm to myself or my colleagues.
No one else has written it because no one else in the capacity of a reporter lived as close to it as I did.
Looking back at it now, I am ashamed I did not throw caution to the winds and at least try to get out the story exactly as it was unfolding to me.
I’m convinced, however that if I had tried this, I would not be here in New York to write this.
I SHOULD like also to add that not once in the stories that I did file from the summer did I tell a lie.
The offense, if I committed one, lies in the fact that the stories that I did file did not dig or go far enough into the truth. It just wasn’t safe to do so.
Here in the safety of New York I now charge (as I would have charged in Sumner, Mississippi), that:
- Sheriff H.C. Strider frustrated the ends of justice by refusing to take an impartial person to the Charleston jail at Charleston, Mississippi and permit him to check on his report that Leroy (Too Tight!) Collins was not in the Charleston jail.
- I FURTHER charge (and with the protection of proper law officials will go back to Mississippi and help prove), Leroy Collins was in the Charleston on Friday at the very hour that the case went to the jury.
- I charge further that Prosecutors Gerald Chatham and Robert B. Smith were told about this but that they decided that since the sheriff had given them his word that Collins was not in jail, they proceeded t
o close out the trial without this man whom everyone believes could have positively hung the crime on two white men and seriously implicated at least one other white man.
- I finally charge that if Leroy Collins is brought forward at this date and given an opportunity to talk where he is assured that he is not in any danger, he will be able to tell where Henry Lee Loggins is and that the two of them will prove to be the two colored men who were seen on the truck by Moses Wright and Willie Reed the night of the murder.
I BELIEVE that Henry Lee Loggins is dead and that he was disposed of because he knew too much about the case.
These are serious charges. But I welcome this opportunity to write down the evidence on which they are based.
This is a fantastic story as lived by this reporter:
On the Sunday before the opening of the trial I attended the funeral of “Kid” Townsend, a well liked colored man who had lived in Sumner virtually all his life.
I had been told a number of white people would attend the funeral and I felt that it would provide at least a good pre-trial story for my paper.
I DROVE into the churchyard, got out with my notebook in hand and went into the church passing a number of colored people in the churchyard.
Inside I found the church crowded with no seats available and that white people were occupying the two-back rows on the left side of the church.
The temperature was about 95 degrees and I decided to stand outside the church and listen to the services after I had been in the church for about a half hour.
This was easy to do because the church was the typical white-washed wooded structure and that the minister who preached was shouting loud enough to be heard a good half mile away.
My notes that I shall constantly refer to in the article, shows that the preacher’s name was Rev. M. M. King, that there were 175 colored people in the church, and 12 whites including five women, four men, and three children.
MY NOTES also show that I recorded the sermon as being from “Fourth Chapter, Second Timothy” and beneath I have a quotation read by the minister which said, “I have fought the fight, I have kept faith, I have finished my course.”
I was leaning there against the fender of a parked car when a voice behind me said, “Are you down here on the trial?”
Up to this point I did not know a single colored person in Sumner and I had tried in the two days I’d been there from spreading the word around that I was a reporter.
But as I turned to the face the voice I decided that it would get out anyway so I turned to the man who addressed me and said, “Yes I’m down on the trial. I’m a reporter.
THE MAN was colored and he said to me, “there’s a lady behind this car who would like to talk to you I think you’d be interested in what she has to say.”
I turned and looked and saw no one. At that moment the man said, “Go behind the car, but don’t take out your notebook and write down nothing.”
Now at this point I should like to say to the reader, if this whole thing starts off reading like a cheap fantastic Hollywood movie script, that is exactly what it is going to read like for the entire five days.
But I can also say that every word of it is true and it is written exactly the way I lived it.
I WENT back of that car and found a woman whom I shall not describe for she told me in the beginning that she was actually endangering her life by talking to me about the trial.
The women then told me that a young boy named “Too Tight” was on the truck the night of the murder and that he had suddenly disappeared and no one knew where he was.
She said she did not know “Too Tights” real name but that she thought she could send me to a place to get all of the information I wanted on him “if you aren’t afraid to go.”
I told her I was not afraid. Then standing and looking off in another direction she said to me: “Go to Glendora. That’s about seven miles south of here. Be careful and don’t let the people know what you are looking for. Don’t talk to any white people.
“Go to a place called King’s. It’s the only colored dance hall in town. Hang around there and find the right people. The will tell you “Too Tight’s” real name and what happened to him. But don’t she said, “get caught down there after dark.”
MISSISSIPPI’S TERROR VIVID TO BALTIMOREANS- This unnamed spectator at Sharp Street Church, Sunday, covers her eyes at Dr. T.R.M. Howard’s shocking description of the recent lynching of Emmett Till. Witnesses said Till’s last words as he was beaten to death in a barn were: “Lord have mercy … Mama, save me.” They heard the white men’s curses as the boy’s cries grew fainter and fainter, until they stopped altogether.
THEN SHE walked away from the car. As she walked away from the car, the man who had first contacted me came around to where I was standing and I asked him more about Glendora.
He had just told me that it was one of the roughest towns on colored people in the county when suddenly a car dashed up in front of a church and a white man J.W. Simpson, editor of the Sumner Sentinel got out.
Then came one of those odd incidents which I have never been able to put together. Simpson who had been friendly to me on my first arrival in town on Thursday, appeared excited.
HE LEFT his car, rushed over to where I standing with the man and pointing with his finger at me he said, “You’re Hicks, aren’t you?”
I was surprised he would ask such as question for we had had a long conversation the day before but I said, “That’s right—I’m Hicks.”
Then to my surprise he turned on his heels, jumped into his car and drove off down the road.
The colored man to whom I was talking said, “Something’s up. That man wanted to say something to you, but he changed his mind. I don’t know whether it was because I was here or not.”
AT THIS point I can report that though I saw Mr. Simpson many times after that, he never said anything about his strange action that Sunday.
The incident unnerved the man whom I was talking and he said, “I’m leaving. If you go to Glendora, good luck. But don’t get caught down there after dark,”
As he walked away I looked at my watch. It was three o’clock. I reasoned that with any good luck I could drive down there in 20 minutes and spend an hour or so in town and still make it to my hotel in Mound Bayou by dark.
So I got into the car and headed immediately for Glendora.
THE TAVERN called King’s was not hard to find. I just looked for a large group of colored people on a back street and there was King’s.
It was a typical hangout in a typical Mississippi town. The place was filthy and the cotton pickers who were enjoying their Sunday off crowded it to the doors.
At one end of the long hall was what served as a kitchen. Somewhere within the bowels of the place was giving out Rock and Roll blue and in the center of the floor couples were dancing attired in all kinds of clothing. Some of the women up to 25 years old were standing barefooted.
I STOOD a long time trying to “case” the place. I had not had a meal since my Mound Bayou breakfast that morning at seven and I was hungry.
But I realized that I only had about a good hour to work in before dark and I wanted to get the most out of my time by circulating through the crowd instead of tying myself to an eating table.
So I elected to spend my hour or so drinking beer and dancing to see what I could find. I walked over to the kitchen and foolishly asked for “a menu.”
THAT WAS a dead giveaway for a stranger and I realize it now. But at the time the words seemed to slip out of my mouth.
It seemed that at the time I felt that if I had some reading matter in my hand I could stall a little bit until I made up my mind as to what approach to make.
When I asked for a menu of a girl waitress, a man behind the counter spoke up and said, “We don’t have any menu. But we can fix you most anything you want.” Then he asked the question I knew was coming.”
“Where you from?”
You simply can’t escape it in the south. They can spot a stranger a mile away.
I COULD tell by the authoritative way the man spoke that he must be the owner or the manager of the joint, so I answered. “Oh, I’m from up the way a bit” and gradually I drew him into conversation.
After trying to convince him that I was merely a drifting guy who dropped in his place for a beer or two—and convincing myself that I hadn’t convinced him of anything. I came at him right down the middle:
“Whatever happened to my boy ‘Too Tight’?” I asked.
The man stopped as if I hit him in the face. I looked over to my right and some men seated at a table playing “Georgia Skin” dropped their cards and turned to look at me at the mention of the name “Too Tight.”
I KNEW then that I was on the trail of something big. But I also knew that the man I was talking would not talk to me in the hearing distance of the others so I grabbed him by his arm and moved over in a direction away from the “Skinners” and nearer the kitchen all the while saying “Let’s have a beer.”
He said nothing until he got me a beer. (He did not take one.) Then he moved over to me and said, “What do you want with ‘Too Tight’?”
I told him “Too Tight” was a friend of mine. That we used to gamble together and that I was in his town and decided to look him up.
HE LOOKED all around and said “Too Tight” is in jail.”
“In jail,” I said. “What have they got ‘Too Tight’ in jail for? He never bothered anybody.”
The man looked at me and said, “See that chick over there,” pointing to a girl seated near the wall. She can tell you about “Too Tight.”
While I drank my beer, I stood there trying to figure out how to best approach the girl who had the key to what I was looking for.
She was seated with a big husky guy and the last thing I wanted to do was become involved with a man for “hitting on” his girlfriend.
BUT ALL around me I noticed that when the other men wanted to dance they didn’t ask women for a dance. They just walk up, grab the woman by the arm and start dancing.
I felt my time was running out and decided to the bold approach. So I walked over to where she was seated, grabbed her by the hand and said, “Let’s dance.”
She was up on her feet in a flash and I swirled her out in the middle of the floor into the crowd as fast as I could, hoping that the big buy at the table wasn’t mad at me.
She spoke first. And her questions were the usual. “Where you from?’ I told her that I was from up in Sumner and I was looking for my friend “Too Tight.”
“TOO TIGHT?” she said, “he’s in jail.”
I expressed surprise
“In jail for what?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she answered “They came and got him Monday a week ago.”
I let fly then with a barrage of questions determined to get them all in before the dance was over and the big guy came to claim her. I asked her if she had been to see him in jail. She said no.
“You mean to tell me.” I said, “that your boy friend has been in jail for a week and you haven’t been to see him?”
She said “Too Tight isn’t my boy friend. He lived with us.
I asked her who was “Us” and she said, ‘Me and my husband.”
“Is that your husband over at the table?” I asked.
“No,” she answered, “He’s in jail too.”
“What did they get him for?” I asked.
“I don’t know” is what she said, “Both of them worked for one of those white men who killed that boy from Chicago and they came and got both of them.”
I then asked her what jail were they in and if she had been and seen her husband. She said she had not—that she had been even afraid to talk about it to anyone.
I asked her what her name was. She told me. I then asked her what her husband’s name was. She said, “Henry Lee Loggins.”
SINCE THE name she gave me did not have Loggins as a last name, I said to her “I thought your name was so and so. Now you tell me your husband’s name is Loggins.
“We’re not married,” She said, “We just lived together.”
Then I asked her what to me was the $64 question in Glendora. “What,” I asked, “is Too Tight’s real name?”
She came right down the middle “His real name is Leroy Collins,” she said.
She then told me that Too Tight lived with his grandfather on the Aklet farm near Glendora (about a mile and a half away) but that he stayed in town so much he had just started living with her and “her husband”.
I THEN tried to get real chummy with her. I complimented her on her dancing and her hair and I asked her if I could come back down to Glendora and take her out. Then for the first time I noticed that she was barefooted.
“We’ll go to the jail first and see your husband.” I said, “And then we can go out and have a few drinks.”
She said that would be all right if I got back before ten o’clock that night. I told her then that I didn’t mean that I was coming back that same night but that I had planned to come down and pick her up the next day.
“I CAN’T do that,” she said. “I’ll be picking cotton all during the day next week.”
I told her that we couldn’t get into the jail at night and that I’d pay her what she would be make picking cotton if she would stay home from work the next day and go to the jail with me.
“I’d like to do it,” she said. “But I’d get a beating.”
I asked her who would beat her and she said that the white man for whom she worked came around and whipped everyone who didn’t go out into the cotton fields and pick his cotton. “Even if they are sick, he whips them,” she said.
I ASKED HER to come with me while I ate something and she readily consented completely ignoring the big guy at the table where she had been seated.
I then found that the menu which was unwritten consisted of chitterlings or beef stew.
I ordered beef stew and sat down with her at a table. As hungry as I was, I couldn’t go for the stew, so I pushed it away and told her I was about ready to leave.
She then showed me where she lived and I promised to come back to Glendora some night. I never went back. Things simply got too hot.
(Continued Next Week)