Story Location: http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/famous/emmett_till/index.html
The woman kept her seat. Despite the driver who, after several minutes, became noticeably irritated that a black person would have the audacity to do what this woman did. She refused to give up a seat to a white man. She sat in the middle of the bus, staring out of a grimy window, deaf to the shouting around her. She was determined not to give in to what she considered to be an unjust demand. In Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, it was a criminal offense for a black person not to give up his or her seat to a white person when asked to do so.
"Are you going to get up or do I have to call the police?" the driver shouted.
The woman shifted her position slightly but did not get up. "Call them," she simply said.
"Damn it!" replied the driver as he marched off to the front of the bus. The woman watched the man, all in a huff, as he cursed his way to the nearest street corner to pick up a pay telephone. The driver was shouting into the receiver the last time she looked. The white passengers on the bus stared at her. Most were visibly angry; their faces displaying disapproval and disgust. But it was no matter to her. Having lived in Alabama nearly all of her 43 years, she had seen white faces like these before.
Glancing out the window, she saw a young boy ride by on his bike with several friends trailing after him. Across the street, young women carried their children in one arm and groceries in the other. Trucks rumbled by the stalled bus, sometimes blowing their horns in quick protest, oblivious to the growing drama. But the woman remained serene. She had more important things on her mind.
She was thinking of another boy who was in the news recently, a teenager from Chicago, with the unlikely name of Emmett "Bobo" Till. He visited the Mississippi delta for some sort of a vacation and came home dead. He was murdered, the papers said, for the "crime" of whistling at a white woman. His body was found in a muddy river with his face mangled.. The woman saw a newspaper photo of the boy's corpse. The image deeply disturbed her and because of it, she hadn't been able to sleep lately. No, she wouldn't give up her seat.
She saw the police roll up in a black and white radio car. Two very large and very white Montgomery cops got out of the car and listened to the driver's vociferous complaint. They shook their heads in astonishment. She could almost hear them. "What? A nigra woman? She won't give up her seat? Damn!" As if this was the most impossible thing they had ever seen. The bus tipped slightly to one side as the cops climbed the few steps up to the passenger level.
Things were not right here, she said to herself. Maybe if people just didn't go along with it anymore. Maybe if everyone just stuck together. Something had to happen. She saw a red-faced cop moving toward her but little did she care.
Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by sheriff
The only thing Rosa Parks thought about was the boy, Emmett Till.
Emmett Till was born on July 25, 1941. He was the son of Louis Till and Mamie Bradley. Louis was an American G.I. who was executed in Italy for murder in 1945. After Louis' death, Mamie gave his ring, inscribed with the initials "L.T.", to Emmett as a memento. Mamie was born in Tallahatchie County in west central Mississippi. She was a child of the delta but escaped its clutches by migrating to Chicago at a very early age. During that era, there was an exodus of black Americans from the South, especially Mississippi. However, some of Mamie's uncles and aunts stayed behind.
Emmett was known as "Bobo" or simply "Bo" to his friends and family. He was gregarious, out-going and fun-loving. Coming from Chicago, he had the typical wisecracking demeanor of inner city youth. He liked to be seen and heard.
In the summer of 1955, Mamie decided to send Bo to visit her relatives in Mississippi. She had a cousin, Moses "Preacher" Wright, 64, who still lived in Leflore County in a wisp of a town called Money, population 55. It was ironic that a place with the name Money could be so poor, but the community was just that. There simply was no industry, no business district and no affluence. "Preacher" Wright was a sharecropper who made his living harvesting cotton on 25 acres. He lived with his wife, Elizabeth, 55, and three sons in a six-room wooden shack outside of town.
On August 20, Mamie brought her son to the crowded train station at 63rd Street in Chicago to catch the train south. She gave Emmett some advice on how to behave. "Bo, be very careful how you speak," she said, "say 'yes sir' and 'no, ma'am' and do not hesitate to humble yourself if you have to get down on your knees!" After all, she later explained in court, Emmett was born and raised in Chicago. He could not possibly know how to act in a place like Mississippi.
The Mississippi delta is a vast spread of land in the western part of the state. Mostly, the land is flat. Cotton is the major crop and the delta produces more of it than any other region in the U.S.
It is comprised mostly of a series of very small communities that consist of little more than a few buildings, a gas station that doubles as a grocery store and maybe, if the town is lucky, a barber shop where locals can go and shoot the breeze over some cold pop or a few beers. In summer, the climate is hot and sticky and resembles that of a tropical jungle.
The history of race relations in Mississippi is one of the South's most tumultuous. In the 1950s, students did not have the most up-to-date texts in their classrooms, but they knew the evils of mixing the races, even in the first grade. Mississippi legislation prohibited anyone from even suggesting "social equality or intermarriage between whites and Negroes."
Mississippi was hardly alone in its antipathy. Mississippi Governor James K. Varddaman once told an audience, "If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched, it will be done to maintain white supremacy."
Statistics show that the delta region had the highest number of lynchings during the period 1880-1930 and therefore, the highest in the nation. Ominously, Tallahatchie and Leflore County were at the top of the list. Some of the many reasons that blacks were lynched by vicious mobs defy belief. They included inflammatory language, loitering, unruly remarks, demanding respect, disorderly conduct, testifying against a white man and trying to vote.
On Wednesday evening, August 24, 1955, Emmett Till and a group of friends, mostly males, decided to go to the local grocery store for some sodas and bubble gum. At 7:30 p.m., they jumped into a 1946 Ford and drove to Bryant's Grocery, a rundown, two-story building located at the only intersection in Money. Roy Bryant, 24, and his wife, Carolyn, both white, owned the business. They were able to carve out a meager profit by selling staples like flour, salt and vegetables to the locals, the majority of whom were black farmers and sharecroppers. Mostly, they sold on credit. The Bryants were poor, even by Mississippi standards, and had to live in a room behind the grocery store.
Carolyn was a pretty woman at age 21. Together, they had two children who were three and two years old. Their lives revolved around the grocery store. To supplement his income, Roy would take outside trucking jobs to make more money.
When the group of black teenagers arrived at the store, Emmett was already bragging to his friends about his experiences with girls in Chicago. He carried a photograph of a white girl in his wallet, which he said was his girlfriend back home. Egged on by the males in the group, Emmett entered the store and struck up a conversation with Carolyn Bryant who was alone at the time. There have been many different versions of what happened inside Bryant's grocery that evening. Some accounts have Emmett putting his arms around Carolyn's waist and saying words like "I've got something for you baby." Other reports do not have him touching her at all, just uttering crude remarks. Carolyn testified at the trial that Emmett said, "What's the matter baby, can't you take it? You needn't be afraid of me!" But whatever occurred, it was enough for Carolyn to retrieve a pistol from the back of the store. Most sources, which included Till's friends, say that Emmett, just before he exited the store, whistled at Carolyn Bryant. Emmett, who most likely did not want to seem fearful in front of his peers, called out, "Bye baby!" By then his friends had come off the front porch and physically pulled him off the premise. They were truly afraid. Having grown up in Tallahatchie County, they knew what constituted unacceptable behavior when it came to racial relations.
After the rambunctious teenagers left the store, Carolyn told her sister in law, Juanita Milam, what happened. During that week, Roy was driving a truck down to Texas and he was not due back for a few days. The two women agreed not to tell their husbands about the incident. That was because a black youth making any type of a sexual advance to a white woman was such a blatant and grievous violation of the unspoken cultural code of the South, there could be only one punishment.
Over the next few days, things were quite normal in Money, Mississippi. Roy Bryant returned home from Florida on Friday the 28th and went about his business as usual. However, rumors about Till's foolish bravado circulated, especially among blacks. People were amazed at the Chicago boy's brazenness, which they knew would only get him into trouble. Carolyn Bryant, though, had kept the information to herself.
But late in the afternoon, one of Bryant's customers came into the store and told Roy that a teenager from Chicago insulted his wife. The informer, who was a local black, may have been motivated by his resentment of Emmett's cockiness. He said the boy was staying with his uncle, Preacher Wright. Roy confronted Carolyn who quickly owned up to the truth. Such a serious matter could not go unpunished, he told her. That afternoon, Roy spoke with one of his half brothers, J.W. Milam, a World War II veteran and known as a man to be reckoned with. Milam was 6'4", and 235 pounds. He won several medals in the war for killing the enemy and was trained in hand-to-hand combat.
"I want you to come over early in the morning," Roy told J.W., "I need a little transportation." When he repeated what Carolyn had told him, J.W. quickly agreed.
"I'll be there early," he replied.
At about 2:00 a.m., J.W. arrived at Bryant's grocery. They left the store and began the two-mile drive over to Preacher Wright's home. Roy was carrying a .45 caliber Colt automatic handgun. A few minutes later, the angry men were banging on Wright's front door. According to an interview, which Milam and Bryant gave to Look magazine in 1956, the following conversation transpired.
"Who's that?" the preacher called out in the darkness.
"Mr. Bryant from Money, Preacher!" replied Roy.
"All right, suh. Just a minute." In moments, Moses Wright appeared at the door.
Rev. Moses Wright
"Preacher," said Bryant, "You got a boy from Chicago here?" Moses replied that he did. He saw that J.W. Milam had a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other.
"I want to talk to him!" demanded Bryant.
"Yes suh," Moses said, "I'll go get him." He already knew why the men were there because neighbors had told them about the confrontation in the grocery store. "I wants that boy who done that talk at Money!" Milam told Wright. Emmett was asleep in the back room with his young cousin, Curtis Jones. "My grandmother was scared to death," Jones said years later, "She was trying to protect Bo. They told her to get back in bed." When Emmett was awakened, the men made him put his clothes on.
"If he's not the right boy," one of the men said, "we are going to bring him back and put him in the bed." But Moses didn't believe him. They marched the confused boy out the front door and forced him into Milam's pick-up truck. Moses stood on his front porch and watched the men drive off. "I saw the outline of a car disappear into the dark," he testified later, "its lights were on. I stood on the porch for 20 minutes, but they didn't come back."
Emmett Till was never seen alive again.
Early Sunday morning, Moses Wright reported to the local sheriff that his nephew had been abducted by two white men. The same day, Deputy Sheriff John Ed Cothran picked up Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for questioning. They admitted that they took the "Chicago boy" from the preacher's home, but said they later released him unharmed. The sheriff's office, assisted by hundreds of citizens began to look through every part of Leflore County. The following day, the incident appeared in local newspapers and soon, the national press picked up on the story.
In Chicago, Mamie Till waited. "He has his faults like most boys," she told reporters from the Chicago Defender, "but he is very mannerable. People like for their children to associate with him. Bo was liked by everybody." Being familiar with traditions in the delta, however, Mamie was aware of the terrible possibilities. She knew that blacks could pay a horrendous price for even the most trivial of insults to a white person.
Three days later, on August 31, a young white boy, named Robert Hodges, was fishing in the Tallahatchie River near a spot called Pecan Point. It was a slow day for fish and the boy idled away the hours in the summer heat. He noticed a strange object floating in the river that had caught some low hanging tree branches. "I saw two knees sticking out of the water," he later testified, "the body was hung on a snag." When he approached it, the boy saw a human corpse. He ran home and told his father what he had found.
Soon, the local police responded. They took several boats out into the Tallahatchie and located the human remains by Pecan Point. It was obvious that the body had been severely beaten. One eye was hanging out of its socket and the left side of the head was horribly smashed. The tongue was grotesquely swollen and some teeth were apparently knocked out of the jaw. Decomposition was in an advanced state. A large fan, which weighed nearly 80 pounds, was attached to the victim's neck by a length of barbed wire. There was a single bullet hole in the skull above the right ear. The effects of being in the water for nearly 72 hours had bloated the corpse in a horrible way. There was a ring on the middle finger of his left hand. It had the initials "L.T." plainly inscribed on its face.
After the body was examined by the coroner, Tallahatchie Sheriff Harold Clarence Strider decided that the remains should be immediately buried. But news of the discovery had already reached Chicago. Mamie Till Bradley insisted that the body be shipped back home at once. On the morning of September 2, Till's remains arrived at the Illinois Central terminal. The coffin was opened while it was still at the station. When Mamie first laid eyes on the mutilated body, she fainted.
"Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation," she later said to the press, "and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son, lynched?"
Oh God! Oh God! My only boy!" Mrs. Mamie Bradley wailed as five men lifted a soiled paper wrapped bundle from a huge, brown wooden mid-Victorian box at the Illinois Central Station in Chicago Friday and put it into a waiting hearse." This was the opening paragraph in the front-page story in the Chicago Defender on September 1, 1955. The body was interred at A.A. Ranier Funeral Parlor on the South Side for four long days. The coffin was intentionally left open, a decision made by Mamie Till who was determined that the world should see that was done to her son. It was a decision that had a profound effect, not only on the many thousands who viewed the mangled corpse, but on the civil rights movement in America as well.
Mamie cries at her son's funeral
"Approximately 250,000 persons viewed and passed by the bier of little Emmett Till," wrote The Defender, "All were shocked, some horrified and appalled. Many prayed, scores fainted and practically all, men, women and children wept."
Mangled face of Emmett Till and open coffin at Till's funeral that Mrs. Till wanted the world to see
In their September 15 issue, Jet magazine published an unedited photo of Till's face as he lay in his coffin. It had a devastating impact upon black America. For the first time, the public saw the terrifying reality of racial killing. Soon, other publications followed Jet magazine's lead and also published the shocking photograph of Till lying in his coffin. "The whole state of Mississippi is going to pay for this thing," Mamie Till told reporters, "he was a good boy. I know he didn't do anything to deserve that."
But in the delta, local resentment was already building and their anger was focused on ill-defined "rabble-rousers." One resident said, "We don't like meddling from outsiders!"
In the meantime, Sheriff Strider decided there was enough evidence to arrest J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant for Till's murder. On September 6, the same day that Till was buried in a Chicago cemetery, Milam and Bryant were indicted in Mississippi on charges of murder in Tallahatchie County Court.
Sumner Courthouse, Tallahatchie8
The trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant began on September 19, 1955 at the Tallahatchie County courthouse in the city of Sumner. But there would be no black jurors. In a county where nearly 65 per cent of the 32,000 residents were black Americans, there was not a single registered black voter. That was because if a black man tried to register to vote, he could be killed for his efforts. On August 20, just a few days before Till was fished out of the Tallahatchie River, Lamar Smith, 63, a black activist who attempted to get blacks to vote, was found shot to death in the town square of Brookhaven, Mississippi. In his hand was a quantity of election leaflets. His killer was never found.
During jury selection, the courtroom was jammed with standing spectators, black and white, male and female, who mingled with each other in polite respect. But there was much pressure to punish the killers of Emmett Till. National organizations had taken up the cause and black leaders everywhere screamed out for justice. The searing memory of a 14-year-old's battered corpse would not simply fade away.
By the end of the first day, ten white men were selected for the jury. Before they were chosen, they were called upon to answer questions concerning racial issues. All said they could and would put aside racial prejudices when it came time to decide guilt or innocence of the defendants.
J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant entered the courtroom for opening testimony in a light, almost jovial mood. With their wives by their sides the entire time and the black spectators safely herded behind a railing, the defendants projected an air of confidence. The jury consisted of friends and neighbors who naturally shared the defendant's views, attitudes and beliefs about racial matters.
J.W. Milam (left), Attorney Carton and Roy Bryant (right)
As soon as the proceedings began, Milam and Bryant became quiet and appeared nervous. Within a few minutes, Mamie Till, dressed in a neat black dress with a white collar and a black veil over her face, quietly walked down the center aisle amidst an enemy camp and took her seat. Photographers frantically snapped their cameras as testimony began.
Moses Wright was called to the stand. He was a very thin, wiry man with taut black leathery skin and gray hair. Wright wore a white shirt with a blue tie and suspenders. He came to the witness chair with an air of dignity and determination. Wright said he was awakened by a banging on his door on the night of August 28. When he opened the door, he found Mr. Bryant and Mr. Milam standing there and demanding to see "the boy from Chicago who did the talking!" He said Milam had a gun and walked into his house to get Emmett Till. Wright described the next anxious minutes as Till was awakened from sleep and forced to get dressed while Bryant and Milam stood over him. He said his wife Elizabeth offered to pay the defendants for any damage Emmett may have caused, if they would just let him be. District Attorney Chatam asked if he could point out the man with the gun in the courtroom.
Moses Wright in court points to Milam and Bryant
"Yes, sir!" Wright said without hesitation. He stood up slowly and with an act of courage and defiance that would reverberate across the state of Mississippi and signal the beginning of the end of white supremacy in the South, an old, black sharecropper pointed a gnarled finger at white J.W. Milam and announced in a loud, clear voice, "Thar he!"
Later, Wright remembered the hundreds of white people in the courtroom, their faces twisted in hatred at what he had done. "It was the first time in my life that I had the courage to accuse a white man of a crime," he told the press, "I wasn't exactly brave and I wasn't scared. I just wanted to see justice done."
"That Was My Boy!"
The heat in Sumner during the week of the trial was humid and oppressive. As the black reporters filed into the courtroom for the late session on Thursday, Sheriff Strider greeted them in his traditional way. "Hello, niggers," he said.
Prosecutor Robert Smith called Mamie Till to the stand. She proved to be an articulate witness who maintained her composure despite the pain she must have felt. Answering questions first from the prosecutor, Mamie described the awful ordeal of identifying her dead son in Chicago.
"I positively identified the body I saw on the slab in Chicago as being my son, Emmett Louis Till," she told the court. Then prosecutor Smith showed her the ring that was found on the dead boy's finger. She identified it as the same one that belonged to her dead husband and she gave to Emmett before he boarded the train in Chicago headed for Money. "Since he was twelve years old, he has worn the ring on occasions," she said, "using Scotch tape or a string to keep it from coming off. When he left for Chicagohe found the ring again and put it on his finger to show me that it fit and he didn't have to wear tape anymore."
"Land of the Free"
In an unusual move, Tallahatchie Sheriff H.C. Strider was called to the stand to testify for the defense. Both Milam and Bryant declined to take the stand to testify in their own behalf. When Sheriff Strider was asked about the condition of the body he pulled out of the Tallahatchie, he described it as being badly decomposed.
"It was in mighty bad shape," he said, "The skin was slipping on the entire body." He went on to describe the high temperature of the river during the summer and the other bodies that were found in the river in the past. He was asked his opinion on how long this particular body may have been submerged. "I would say at least 10 days, if not 15," he replied. The sheriff said that this body was unrecognizable and he couldn't tell if it was a white man or a black man. "If one of my sons had been missing," he said, "I couldn't have told it was him. All I could tell it was a human being."
The jury retired for deliberations at 2:46 p.m. on September 23. Mamie Till promptly left the courthouse and drove out of town. "I didn't want to be there for the verdict," she said later. In little over one hour, sixty-seven minutes to be precise, at 3:43 p.m., the jury returned to the box. "It would have been even shorter," one jury member later told a local reporter, "but we stopped to drink some pop." Jury foreman, J.A. Shaw, a farmer from the nearby town of Webb, read the decision.
"Not guilty!" replied Mr. Shaw. The courtroom was oddly quiet at first. It was a verdict that was both expected and yet feared. The defendants embraced their wives as photographers began to take their pictures. Milam and Bryant walked into the hallways and spoke with the crowd of reporters.
"I'm happy with the outcome," said J.W. Milam as he lit up cigars for himself and his half-brother.
"I'm glad to get loose," added Roy Bryant as he smiled for the press and kissed his wife who had tears of joy running down her cheeks. "I'm real happy at the result," beamed Carolyn.
J.W. Milam (left), Roy Bryant and their wives exult in the verdict
"It's about the biggest farce I've ever seen," Mamie Till told the Chicago Defender after the trial, "it is unbelievable and fantastic." Very few crimes in America have ever generated the kind of shock and anger as the murder of Emmett Till and the exoneration of his killers. The national press attacked the verdict as an insult to democracy and proof of the cancerous effects of racism in the Deep South. In the days that followed the verdict, angry newspaper editorials denounced the transparent decision of the Sumner jury. "Good people everywhere, "wrote the The Daily Worker, "in America and throughout the world-feel a deep sense of horror over the outcome of the murder trial in Mississippi." The nation's largest black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, said on October 1, 1955, "How long must we wait for the federal government to act. For too long it has been the device, as it was in the Till case, for the President to refer such matters to the Department of Justice."
Mississippi's own Jackson Daily News published an editorial on September 25, 1955 that probably represented the feelings of many citizens in the delta. It read, "Practically all the evidence against the defendants was circumstantial evidence. it is best for all concerned that the Bryant-Milam case be forgotten as quickly as possible. It has received far more publicity than it should have been given."
"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.
In December of 1955, just three months after the Emmett Till murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery city bus. It signified the beginning of the black civil rights movement in America. Over the next two decades, the powerful winds of change swept over America like a storm, wiping out the evil structure of white supremacy in the South. Although the N.A.A.C.P. kept up the pressure on the Department of Justice to bring a federal case against the defendants, they never succeeded.
In an interview with author Juan Williams for the television production, Eyes on the Prize, Congressman Charles Diggs recalled the hate-filled days of the Till trial. "I think the picture in Jet magazine showing Emmett Till's mutilation," he said, "was probably the greatest media product in the last forty or fifty years because that picture stimulated a lot of interest and anger on the part of blacks all over the country."
After the trial, Moses Wright packed up his family and belongings and fled Leflore County in fear of his life. Blacks who reported a crime committed by a white man to the police were not expected to live long in Mississippi. He never went back to the land of his birth and died in 1960. Roy Bryant and his wife returned to their grocery store and tried to resume a normal life. But they found that their black customers refused to do business with them any longer. The store was forced to close. Bryant also discovered that his white friends were very reluctant to give him any assistance whatsoever. Ostracized by his own community and with no job prospects, the Bryants later moved to Texas. They were divorced in 1979. Half-brother J.W. Milam turned to farming after the Till murder. But local blacks refused to work for him and his crops eventually failed. Milam also moved to Texas for a time and labored in construction until he died from cancer in December 1981.
(The Bryant's store, now abandoned)
Mamie Till worked as a teacher in Chicago until her retirement in 1978. She became an icon of the civil rights movement and for decades, spoke on the evils of segregation and discrimination. Just two weeks before the premier of the program, The Murder of Emmett Till, she died in Chicago of heart failure. She was 81.
In his last interview with a radio program in 1989, Roy Bryant had some curious words for the manner in which he was treated. "A lot of people made a bunch of money off of this," he told a National Public Radio reporter, "I ain't never made a damn nickel!" Roy Bryant also died of cancer in 1990.
No one was ever convicted of any charges whatsoever relating to the murder of Emmett Till.