You Know About Emmett Till, but Not About the Barn

In a lengthy piece for the 'Atlantic,' Wright Thompson takes readers there
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2021 8:00 AM CDT
You Know About Emmett Till, but Not About the Barn
This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago teen, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in Mississippi.   (AP Photo, File)

We know the story of Emmett Till, but the story we know is only a partial one, argues Wright Thompson in a lengthy piece for the Atlantic that revolves around one major gap: the barn in which the 14-year-old was murdered in 1955. Most people asked where Till was killed would likely land on Money, Mississippi—the town where Till whistled at Carolyn Bryant outside the Bryant family store. "An Equal Justice Initiative monument in Montgomery says Money," writes Thompson. Ditto Wikipedia. The Library of Congress website doesn't name the spot, either: a barn just beyond the town of Drew, some 45 minutes from the store. Two men were tried and acquitted for Till's killing: half brothers JW Milam and Roy Bryant, Carolyn's husband. But historians suspect as many as seven men were there that night, among them, another half brother, Leslie Milam.

The latter lived in the farmhouse that stood next to the barn. The FBI found no physical evidence of Till's murder in the barn as part of a federal investigation opened in 2004. But we know what happened thanks to a single man. Willie Reed, then 18, was headed to town on the final morning of Till's life when he saw a pickup turn toward the barn with seven men and a child inside. Reed heard Till's screams coming from the right side of the barn; he saw JW Milam exit for a water break, then heard the screams resume. Reed's grandfather told him to keep his mouth shut. Instead, he testified. But over the decades, the barn faded out of the story. (We recommend you read the full story, which touches on the effort to raise funds to buy the barn.)

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