Fixed To Fail: The Emmett Till Murder Trial (additional resources)


"2, 4, 6, 8 - We Want To Miscegenate!"

That was the protest chant we never heard, but that segregationists passionately argued really sang in the heart (or other body part) of the civil rights movement. As a grade-school kid during the heat of the school desegregation battle, I could never grasp why school desegregation sparked such a venomous reaction. I thought I understood the threat of voting rights. But why was school desegregation so threatening?

Researching for this video cleared it all up for me.

No - it was not Herman Talmadge equating segregation with worship that enlightened me. He simply appears to be your garden-variety soapbox orator, whose bloated nose suggested that his true passion was alcohol. In 1979 he finally underwent treatment for alcohol abuse.

Although, like many segregationists, he repudiated segregation to save his political career, he never took responsibility. Instead he argued that he was doing his duty in following the will of the electorate. Just following orders...

In an oral history, Talmadge recalled what forged his character:

...I needed every whipping I ever got, too, and they all helped me.

Maybe he just needed a few more whippings. Spare the rod, spoil the demagogue!

Asia to the Yellow Man

No light shed by the Florida State Supreme Court opinion (partially reproduced in The Last Unlikely Hero: Gerald Bard Tjoflat and the Jacksonville Desegregation Crisis — 35 Years Later, The Florida Bar Journal, March, 2006 Volume 80, No.3) - it just proves that supposedly intelligent people can embrace completely self-contradictory absurdity, if it is made to appear to support their beliefs:

"I might venture to point out ... that segregation is not a new philosophy generated by the states that practice it. It is and always has been the unvarying law of the animal kingdom, the dove and the quail, the turkey and the turkey buzzard ... it matters not where they are found, are segregated: place the horse, the cow, the sheep, the goat and the pig in the same pasture and they instinctively segregate ... and when God created man, he allotted each race to his own continent according to color, Europe to the white man, and Asia to the yellow man, Africa to the black man, and America to the red man, but we are now advised that God's plan was in error and must be reversed.... " [State v. Board of Control, 83 So. 2d 20, 27 (Fla. 1955) (Terrell, J., concurring)]

Right - a "white" man, ruling in the land of the "red" man, rules that horse, cow, and sheep (different species that cannot breed with each other) segregate, and therefore segregation of humans (same species, and therefore capable of breeding) is God's plan. And the argument conveniently misses this: horse, cow, and sheep are all domestic animals that resulted from generations of crossbreeding - i.e. mongrels, products of miscegenation. In other words, if the 1955 Florida Supreme Court ruled the animal kingdom, horses, cows, and sheep would be illegal.

Virginians On Guard
Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown,
Jane Dailey, The Journal of American History Vol. 91, Issue 1

The answer seemed so obvious - after I found it. Why would adults go crazy over kids in school? SEX, of course. Isn't that the reason for everything? The only sensible explanation came from the The Journal of American History, where Jane Dailey wrote:

Despite the precautions of both the NAACP and the Warren court, however, the Brown decision was interpreted by a large and vocal segment of white southerners in explicitly sexual terms. "The first reaction to the Supreme Court's decision was almost psychotic," Mark Ethridge, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, recalled. In a typical editorial comment, the Jackson Daily News in Mississippi denounced the school decision as "the first step, or an opening wedge, toward mixed marriages, miscegenation, and the mongrelization of the human race." Walter C. Givhan, an Alabama state senator, interpreted the Brown decision the same way. "What is the real purpose of this? To open the bedroom doors of our white women to Negro men." Numerous letters sent to southern governors struck the same theme. In a letter to Georgia governor Herman E. Talmadge (who was on record arguing that "God himself segregated the races" and who would continue to assert that "segregation is not inconsistent with Christianity"), William A. Robinson Jr. worried about the future. "Of course, we may abolish the public schools," Robinson wrote, "but when the NAACP procures from an obliging Court, as seems quite likely in the near future, a ruling adverse to our marriage restrictions, we cannot meet that issue by abolishing marriage." Georgia's state attorney general, Eugene Cook, agreed with this line of reasoning and took it a step further, predicting "an amalgamation stampede" should the Court rule against state antimiscegenation laws. Racial Facts, a popular pamphlet, made the same point in a way any southern gardener could understand, warning of "Negroid blood like the jungle, steadily and completely swallowing up everything."

So that's it. Segregationists feared that Johnny won't be able to read because Mary's become addick-ted to the load Tyrone's carrying in his baggy knickers. At the same time that they argued that segregation was natural and God's plan, they openly implied that anything less than strict laws of separation (enforced by both official and mob terrorism) would result in a stampede of white women eager to ride the black hot rod. Maybe a few counseling sessions on self-esteem could have solved the whole problem.

Maybe not.

And for those readers who are not southern gardeners, the same point can be made in a way that could be understood by any inhabitant of the Internet ecosystem:


Inventing An Investigation

The FBI responded quickly to the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.

On September 6 1955, less than two weeks after the kidnapping and murder, and less than a week after the body was recovered, J. Edgar Hoover wrote to the Attorney General: On August 31, 1955, after the receipt of information that the victim's body had been recovered, the above facts were furnished to Mr. A. B. Caldwell, Chief, Civil Rights Section, Criminal Division, by a representative of this Bureau and Mr. Caldwell stated that the facts did not indicate a violation of the Civil Rights Statute and no investigation should be conducted. The opinion expressed by Mr. Caldwell was confirmed by my memorandum to Mr. Olney of September 1, 1955.

The facts in this case indicate a state offense of kidnapping and murder but there is no indication to date of a violation of the Federal Kidnapping Statute or the Federal Civil Rights Statute inasmuch as the action was taken against a private citizen by a group of citizens. There has been no allegation made that the victim has been subjected to the deprivation of any right or privilege which is secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States which would come within the provisions of Section 241, Title 18, United States Code. It should be noted that recently in Washington, D.C., a group of white boys from the State of Mississippi were beaten and knifed by Negro youths and this Bureau did not conduct an investigation into that matter upon the instructions of the Criminal Division.

It only took a little less than 50 years for the FBI to open an investigation of the Emmett Till case - accompanied by much publicity, of course.

The report of the investigation includes 12 pages of background information: covering segregation, the Southern justice system, Brown vs. the Board of Education, Citizen Councils, and earlier killings of blacks in Mississippi that year. Yet nowhere does the report mention the FBI's prior refusal to investigate. The only mention of the FBI's role in the case comes in a single (misleading) sentence:

FBI report snippet

It's misleading because the construction of the sentence would lead the reader to believe the FBI participated in "the original 1955 investigation", along with the Mississippi law enforcement agencies, yet the above letter from J. Edgar Hoover confirms that the the FBI refused to investigate.

Nonetheless, the FBI's exercise in revisionist history does offer revealing glimpses into aspects of the case that were not previously widely known, partly through recovery of the long-lost trial transcript.

The Day The Lawyers' Lips Stood Still

Names of those still living were removed from the FBI's public report but, from the circumstances, it seems likely that this refutation of Carolyn Bryant's story of her encounter with Emmett Till comes from Juanita Milam, who was the wife of killer J.W. Milam at the time of the trial:

FBI report: Juanita Milam's story

Indeed, Juanita Milam was not questioned about any aspect of the case, even though Carolyn Bryant alleged that Mrs. Milam was the only other person in the store besides herself and Emmett Till. She was spared the choice of becoming legally entangled in the murder or betraying her family, while the jury was spared the possible embarassment of being faced with more proof that they were about to acquit murderers - yet another indication that the prosecution aided in the cover-up during the sham trial:

FBI report: Juanita Milam's testimony

Conventional wisdom teaches:

Q. How do you tell when a lawyer is lying?
A. His lips are moving.

We now know that the truly skilled lawyer can deceive while tight-lipped.

Note that, unlike the killers and their accomplice Carolyn Bryant, Juanita Milam did not appear to be celebrating the acquittal.

2014 Update: Juanita Milam dies

USA Today reported: Whatever secrets Juanita Milam harbored all of those years regarding the role of her husband, brother-in-law, and anyone else involved will probably never be known. Juanita died quietly on Jan. 14 in Ocean Springs, Miss., her home for the last several years.

The report also counters a common claim (that's also repeated in this video): It was rumored J.W. and Juanita had divorced years earlier, as did Roy and Carolyn Bryant, but when J.W. died, Juanita was listed as his wife in his obituary. No divorce record for the couple exists in Washington County where they lived. Juanita never remarried.

And the report confirms: in the FBI's report, the person that refuted Carolyn Bryant's story was indeed Juanita Milam.

2017 Update: Revealed - Carolyn Bryant confessed a decade ago

In January 2017, Vanity Fair reported: In a new book...Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar, reveals that Carolyn — in 2007, at age 72 — confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony. “That part’s not true,” she told Tyson, about her claim that Till had made verbal and physical advances on her. As for the rest of what happened that evening in the country store, she said she couldn’t remember.

The only significance of this is that what previously was obvious is now also indisputable, as it's a confession made under no apparent external duress. But actually only the most brainwashed segregationists could have ever believed her story.

Of greater concern is the suspicious timing of the revelation. When Carolyn Bryant confessed in 2007, it was the culmination of a wave of investigative activity:

  • 2004: FBI opens an investigation of the Emmett Till case. Carolyn Bryant was questioned. The 2006 report of the investigation revealed that Juanita Milam, wife of the other killer, said Bryant made the whole story up to get more attention from her husband.
  • 2007: FBI gave their report to the county's district attorney, who sought a manslaughter charge against Bryant (the last known living suspect in the case), but the grand jury declined to issue any new indictments - effectively ending any further prosecution. As the grand jury system is nothing more than a tool of the district attorney, they were certainly led to decline to indict by the DA - yet another instance of the "Fixed To Fail" strategy at work.
  • 2007: Presumably it was at this point that Bryant, safe from threat of any prosecution, chose the same path as her killer husband and brother-in-law: sneer at the ineffective justice system by confessing her crime, not to authorities, but in a commercial publication.
But the supposed "historian" hid the confession from public knowledge for a decade, revealing the secret only during promotion of his book. With academics, local prosecution, and federal investigators colluding in hiding the truth, it must be asked: in the 60+ years since the murder and mock trial, has anything substantially changed?

Emmett Till Murder: Resources