River Site Sign #2

By: Dave Tell

This sign was placed here in April 2008 by the Emmett Till Memorial Commission (ETMC). As the bullet-filled sign makes apparent, the ETMC’s attempt to commemorate the murder of Emmett Till with roadside markers has been met with vandalism.
This sign as well as the first River Site sign 2.3 miles north on River Road have been shot. The sign that once stood in front of the Delta Inn in Sumner has been stolen. Some locals understand the vandalism and theft as evidence of a lingering racism and an enmity toward Till memorialization. Other locals don’t see it that way; they think that teenagers would shoot any sign in the rural countryside regardless of its content.

The precise site of Till’s recovery is difficult to know. The FBI concluded that Till’s body was not recovered at this site. Rather, they concluded that the body was recovered nearly 5 miles downstream (southeast) of here, at a spot where the Tallahatchie River briefly dips into Leflore County. If the FBI is correct, then nearly everyone in 1955 was wrong. While there was some speculation in 1955 about the site of the murder, there was widespread consensus that the body was recovered in Tallahatchie County.

During the trial itself, Robert Hodges (the fisherman who discovered the body) testified that the body was discovered on a portion of the river that divided Tallahatchie County from Leflore County. However, the river does not begin serving as a boundary between the counties until 6.5 miles downstream from this spot (1.5 miles beyond the FBI’s location). Prosecutor Robert Smith III was very careful on this point. Cognizant that Hodge’s testimony could potentially change the venue of the trial, he ensured that Hodges was crystal clear. The body, Hodges testified, was discovered on the left side of the river as you faced downstream, on the Tallahatchie County side of the Tallahatchie River. Hodges was not cross-examined and his testimony was never questioned.

The site marked by this sign is the furthest upstream that anyone has ever claimed the body was recovered. Despite this, there is some compelling evidence in its favor. Most strikingly, Johnny B. Thomas says this was the site. Thomas is the current Mayor of Glendora and son of the late Henry Lee Loggins—a figure much-speculated to have been involved in the murder. Although Thomas does not reveal much (he claims to be saving his secrets for a tell-all book), he does claim that his father was Milam’s “right-hand man.” Based on information presumably coming from his father, Thomas argues that the body was thrown into the Black Bayou from the Second Street bridge just south of Glendora—a bridge that, conveniently, was permanently closed in 1955. That bridge is only 1.8 miles southwest of this spot. If the water was high (as it was in 1955), then the body could have drifted from the bridge to this spot.

If Thomas was correct about the site of the body’s recovery, as this sign by the ETMC seems to suggest, then he may also have been correct about his father’s involvement in the murder. And, if Henry Lee Loggins was in fact involved, this would lend credence to the story uncovered by Baltimore Afro-American reporter James Hicks that Loggins was jailed in Charleston to prevent him from providing an eyewitness account of the murder. In short, if the ETMC is correct regarding the placement of their sign, it might provide indirect evidence of a widespread, state-sanctioned effort to cover-up the murder by jailing witnesses.