By: Davis Houck
According to the so-called “confession” penned by journalist William Bradford Huie in the January 24, 1956 edition of LOOK Magazine, Emmett Till was beaten in a shed behind J.W. Milam’s house in Glendora, taken to a steep bank on River Road, shot in the head and dumped into the Tallahatchie River and weighted down by a 75-pound blast wheel from a cotton gin.
For decades Huie’s account, because it was branded as a “confession,” functioned as the definitive word on what happened to Emmett Till in his final hours.
We now know that Huie’s account was pure hooey.
Huie’s story leaves out the explosive eyewitness testimony of 18-year-old Willie Reed, a black plantation worker walking to a local store early on Sunday morning. Reed saw Milam’s vehicle, Emmett Till in the bed of that truck with at least two other black men, and several white men in the cab of the 1955 white and green Chevrolet pick-up. Later, Reed heard loud screams coming from the small seed barn on the Sturdivant plantation, which was managed by Milam’s brother and Bryant’s half-brother, Leslie. Those screams were also heard by Amanda Bradley and Reed’s grandfather, Add Reed. Reed’s courtroom testimony on Thursday, September 22, did not come easily: only through the remarkable efforts orchestrated by Mound Bayou physician, Dr. T. R. M. (Theodore Roosevelt Mason) Howard, did the prosecution find local black field hands willing to testify. After the murder trial, Reed, his grandfather and Bradley all fled to Chicago to escape possible retribution. Willie Reed died at the age of 76 in 2013.
In a death-bed confession discovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Leslie Milam admitted to his involvement in Emmett Till’s murder. Moreover, the investigative work of filmmaker Keith Beauchamp confirms much that the FBI later uncovered: namely that many men—both white and black—were involved in Till’s lynching, not just Milam and Bryant according to Huie’s account. In other words, Willie Reed’s brave trial testimony was completely dismissed by many, including by Huie, in his “confession” blockbuster. What Huie missed was that Milam and Bryant had several friends and accomplices to protect; meanwhile, double jeopardy prevented them from being tried again for Till’s murder.
Today, the site of Till’s likely murder is owned by Dr. Jeff Andrews, who has lived on the property for more than 20 years. The FBI sectioned off the inside of the shed in 2005 in an effort to uncover evidence related to the brutal beating; their efforts did not turn up any new physical evidence. Remarkably, among the many Till commemorative sites and signs dotting the Delta landscape, this terribly important place continues to exist in a memory void.