By: Dave Tell
On Sunday, September 18, 1955, reporter of James Hicks of the Baltimore Afro-American was in Sumner preparing to cover the Emmett Till murder trial, which was to open the subsequent day.
Looking for a pre-trial story, Hicks stopped by the biracial funeral of “Kid” Townsend—a well-liked black man who had recently passed of a heart attack. Because there were no seats available in the church, Hicks listened to preacher W. M. King from outside. While he was standing there, a stranger approached him, asked if he was covering the Till trial, and, upon learning that he was, urged Hicks to walk behind a nearby car and talk to the woman he found there. Hicks did as he was told. The woman behind the car confided to Hicks that a local black boy known to her only as “Too Tight” was with Emmett Till the night of the murder, but had not been seen since. Should Hicks want more information, she told him to go to King’s Place, the only colored dance hall in Glendora.
Hicks drove directly to King’s Place. He danced, he drank, and, generally, tried to fit in. After failing to pass as a local, he tried a more direct approach. He asked the manager about the mysterious “Too Tight” and was directed to a woman. He flirted with the woman in order to gain information. He danced with her, asked her if he could take her out for drinks, and promised to come back to see her (which he never did). The flirting worked. By the time Hicks left King’s Place around dinner time, he had learned a number of important facts about the Till murder—facts that were true but which would be disregarded in the trial and, in large part, written out of public memory.
The woman told Hicks that Levy “Too Tight” Collins lived with her and her husband, Henry Lee Loggins. Both Collins and Loggins worked for J. W. Milam and, on the night of the murder, Milam fetched them both to help with the abduction and murder. Both men accompanied the murder party to the Sturdivant Plantation west of Drew (in Sunflower County) where Till was tortured and, according to Milam’s later admissions, killed.
Collins and Loggins were thus, in all probability, eyewitnesses to the murder of Emmett Till. Although Loggins publicly denied this for years (most dramatically on 60 Minutes in 2005), it is widely rumored that he confessed his involvement to his son, Johnny B. Thomas, current Mayor of Glendora, before passing.
Despite a vigorous effort to find Collins and Loggins—and plead with them to testify—they proved elusive. The woman at King’s Place told Hicks that the two men had been put in the county jail in Charleston, 28 miles away, to keep them away from the trial. Prosecutors Gerald Chatham and Robert Smith, however, claimed to search the jail twice with little luck.
Despite the fact that Collins and Loggins were not found before the trial (and hence could not testify), the information Hicks discovered at King’s Place is of immense value for public memory. The fact that Collins and Loggins were involved in the murder puts the lie to the story pedaled by LOOK Magazine. That story—the story which dominated the memory of Emmett Till for the majority of the century—restricted the murder party to the two people who had already been acquitted (J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant) and placed the site of the murder near Glendora, on the banks of the Tallahatchie. The story Hicks discovered at King’s Place challenges these conclusions: it suggests that more people were involved than simply those who were tried, and it places the murder site in Drew—a fact that would implicate even more people.