Courageous Emmett Till Witness Dead at 76

Willie Louis testified about what he had heard
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 24, 2013 9:34 AM CDT
Courageous Emmett Till Witness Dead at 76
This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a black teenager from Chicago whose body was found in the Tallahatchie River near Money, Miss. on Aug. 31, 1955.   (AP Photo/File)

A man who was witness to Emmett Till's screams and refused to stay quiet about it died last week, reports the Chicago Sun-Times, which takes a look at the courageous Willie Louis. Louis was 76. He was a key witness at the historic trial, in which an all-white jury ultimately acquitted JW Milam and Roy Bryant in the murder of Till, a 14-year-old who whistled at a white woman in 1955 Mississippi. Described as "a godsend" by Till's cousin, Louis heard what happened in the tool shed that a kidnapped Till was taken to.

The Sun-Times recounts an interview Louis gave to 60 Minutes, in which he explains, "I heard the screaming, beating, the screaming and beating." He says Milam confronted him later that day, asking if he had heard anything; he said no. As for why he testified, "I couldn’t have walked away from that," he said—even though his grandfather told him to stay quiet and he had to go into hiding until the trial began, reports the Chicago Tribune. But doing so wasn't without cost: After the trial he left the South for Chicago, where he suffered a nervous breakdown and changed his last name from "Reed" in an attempt to escape the public eye. "He didn't talk about it much," says his wife, who didn't learn about Louis' role in the trial until eight years after they married. (Read more obituary stories.)

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