THE WHITE WOMAN EMMETT TILL WHISTLED AT AND A MAN ALLEGED
TO HAVE HELPED THOSE WHO KILLED HIM FOR IT ARE A FOCUS
OF A REOPENED MURDER CASE -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
One of the reasons Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955 was because a black teenager was tortured and murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman a few months before. No one ever paid for the crime, but 60 MINUTES has confirmed that the recently reopened investigation into the torture-murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till is focused on at least two people: the woman he whistled at and a man who witnesses say they saw on a truck with Till after his abduction. Ed Bradley's report on the case that helped galvanize the civil rights movement in America will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Oct. 24 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
The woman Till whistled at, Carolyn Bryant, disappeared from view and was never arrested or charged in the crime. 60 MINUTES found her, now aged 70, living in Greenville, Miss., divorced and remarried and now known as Carolyn Donham. 60 MINUTES confirmed that Donham is a focus of the investigation. Neither she nor her son, Frank Bryant, would discuss Till or the reopened investigation and her involvement in it.
Till, from Chicago, was visiting his cousin, Simeon Wright, when the incident occurred. Wright saw Byrant's husband, Roy, and Bryant's brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, take Till away from the Wright residence late at night. He tells Bradley that his father told him there was a woman in the truck who identified Till. "At the time, we believed it was Bryant's wife [Carolyn]. And after 48 and some odd years, there's nothing arisen to dispel that belief," says Wright.
Bryant and Milam were tried for the crime, but acquitted by an all-white jury after a one-hour deliberation, despite the testimony of Wright's father and others.
Blacks were also involved in the crime, according to witnesses. Wright says his father saw a black man on his porch that night with Bryant and Milam and other witnesses said they saw a black man on the truck with Till. The witnesses claimed they saw Henry Lee Loggins, a black man who worked for Milam at the time and who 60 MINUTES also confirmed is under investigation. 60 MINUTES found him living in Ohio. Now 81, Loggins denies the stories. "I can't figure it out," he tells Bradley. "I wouldn't sit here and tell you no lie. I don't know nothing about that case."
The decision to reopen the case is due in large part to the efforts of Keith Beauchamp, a young, black amateur filmmaker from Louisiana who has devoted much of his life to telling the story of Till and who is producing a documentary on the case. He theorizes, in an interview with Bradley, that even if Loggins and other blacks were involved, it was under duress. "We believe that they were forced to participate in the crime. It was going to be either them or Emmett Till," he tells Bradley.
A picture of Till's mutilated body from his open-casket funeral appeared in a 1955 issue of Jet magazine, firing a spark in the nascent civil rights movement -- many still remember where they were when they saw the picture. Beauchamp saw it in a later edition of the magazine when he was only 10 and has never forgotten it. "My parents came in and sat me down and explained to me�the story of Emmett Till�.It hit me hard, it really hit me hard," Beauchamp tells Bradley.