Where Two Murderers of Emmett Till ‘Spent the Night’

Back in August of 1955, two of the men who brutally murdered young Chicagoan Emmett Till visited a Delta family’s home in nearby Rulesville shortly afterwards.

Now a resident of Drew in Sunflower County less than five miles near the plantation where Till was killed, an old woman, who asks to remain anonymous, remembers that summer night of her seventeenth year when her parents let J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant into their home. Bryant was her mother’s relative by marriage; both were loud and nervous, she recalled.

Recently, Mrs. “Brown” stopped in to visit with a black restaurant owner in Drew, telling him she felt it important to share her story with him and others in the black community.

“It’s finally the right time,” she told the restauranteer.

“My parents didn’t tell me then what was going on at the time. J.W. had a full brother, Bud, and I am very sure he was with them, too. I was in bed but I could hear their voices.”[1]

It was years later that her father confessed to the Drew woman that Milam and Bryant told him what they had done to Emmett Till.

“They knew the law was looking for them. They also said that Carolyn Bryant was with them when they killed Emmett Till. I don’t know when Bud joined them. I think they caught up with him later. He was a nicer person than his brother and I don’t think he would have killed someone – I hope not.”

When she awoke at sunrise that same morning, all three men had left her family home. “I never knew what happened to them after they left our house. I think they knew the law was going to catch up with them. And I think they felt safe, since most of the officers were covering for them, anyway. I don’t know if they turned themselves in, let themselves be found or if they were picked up by the sheriff and charged.

“I still can’t believe how they put our family in such danger; there was so much turmoil after Emmett Till was killed. People in Drew – black and white – were threatening to kill each other’s entire families. Some were threatening to kill as many as ten members of another person’s family as payback.”[2]

Even though her parents hid the killers of Emmett Till and never turned them in, the Drew woman denies their involvement.

“I know that my parents would have never covered for them. The men came to our house and sat there all night. Later my parents told me what was going on. But I would never want anyone to think that our family helped them out.”

Mrs. Brown believes that “most white people in Drew and Ruleville felt the same way.”

“After the trial, the only support Milam and Bryant got came from the Klan because they were members. Most people didn’t want to have anything to do with them; they had killed a 14-year-old child, after all. Maybe they didn’t mean to do it, but they did kill him.”

On August 24, 1955, fourteen-year-old Till whistled at a white woman in a grocery store in Money, Mississippi, a small cotton hamlet in the Delta. Emmett Till, a teen from Chicago, didn’t understand that he had broken the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South until three days later, when two white men dragged him from his bed in the dead of night, beat him brutally and then shot him in the head.

Although Till’s killers were arrested and charged with murder, they were both acquitted quickly by an all-white, all-male jury. Shortly afterwards, the defendants sold their story, including a detailed account of how they murdered Till, to a journalist.

The murder and the trial horrified the nation and the world and Till’s death was a spark that helped mobilize the civil rights movement. Three months after his body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, the Montgomery bus boycott began after Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of a city bus. Parks would later tell the young man’s mother how she was influenced by Till’s murder to take her personal stand.

The federal government’s failure to become involved in the Till case led blacks and whites to realize that if change were to come, they would have to do it themselves. Some historians describe the murder of young Emmett Till as the real spark that ignited broad-based support for the movement.


[1] A story appearing September 3, 1955, in the Jackson Advocate suggested that three white men were, in fact, involved in the kidnapping, marking “the first suggestion that more individuals were involved in the abduction than either Milam or Bryant let on,” according to Christopher Metress, editor of a comprehensive book on the Emmett Till incident.
2] Interview by Susan Klopfer on March 4, 2005, with a Sunflower County resident who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. “Just a few years ago, our minister and his family were threatened when the minister tried to talk about church integration. They were almost run out of town.” Bud was probably with the group, as she suggested. Dr. TRM Howard’s version of the kidnapping and murder appeared in a small booklet in February 1956, Time Bomb: Mississippi Exposed and the Full Story of Emmett Till. The author was Olive Arnold Adams, the wife of Julius J. Adams, the publisher of the New York Age, but Howard was her main source. He also wrote the forward.” In addition to Time Bomb, a series of articles appeared in the California Eagle, a black newspaper in Los Angeles. “The author was a mysterious white Southern reporter who wrote under the pseudonym of Amos Dixon. Dixon put forward essentially the same thesis as Time Bomb but offered a more detailed description of the possible roles of Loggins, Hubbard, and Collins. He also alleged that another brother of Milam and Bryant, Leslie Milam (now dead) took part in the crime,” wrote David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito (“Why It’s Unlikely the Emmett Till Murder Mystery Will Ever Be Solved,” History News Network, 4/26/04).