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The Nation | DISPATCH FROM SUMNER, MISS.

Counting on Time to Break a Silence

Justice Department's reopening of the 1955 murder case of Emmett Till hinges on black and white witnesses telling long-kept secrets.

May 18, 2004|Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writer

The most pointed silence has come from Carolyn Bryant, who divorced her husband after the trial.

Bryant, who would be 70 years old, left Mississippi and is not known to have spoken publicly about the case. Cousins of Till's, who were among the witnesses, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that they remembered hearing a woman's voice identify Till from inside Roy Bryant's vehicle.

Carolyn Bryant could not be located for this article.

"I think now people want to know the truth before she dies," Jordan said. "I don't think anyone is going to hate anyone now. It would be more or less pity."

Another long-silent player is Henry Lee Loggins, a black laborer who left Mississippi after the trial. Loggins, now 80, along with Leroy "Too Tight" Collins, worked for Milam and was alleged to have played some role in the killing. Collins died in 1993, according to historian David Beito of the University of Alabama.

Beauchamp said Loggins spoke extensively to him, giving a detailed description of the crime and its perpetrators. But when reached at his home in Ohio, Loggins told The Times that he had no knowledge of the crime. "I told him I don't know nothing about it," Loggins said. "I don't go by hearsay. I wasn't there."

"I ain't gonna be lying," Loggins said. Till "was my race. I wouldn't lie."

If Collins and Loggins were involved, they were almost certainly unwilling participants, Jordan said. "If these two men were working for the perpetrators, then they at that time were doing what they were [told] to do," he said. "They need to come forward and tell it."

The renewed interest in the Till murder comes amid convictions in the South in recent years in connection with a number of civil-rights-era killings, including Bobby Frank Cherry's conviction in a Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four black girls more than 40 years ago.

There's little question that there were more than two people involved in killing Till, said Christopher Metress, an associate professor of English at Samford University in Birmingham, who edited "The Lynching of Emmett Till," a compilation of news reports and writings on the case.

Whether they are alive is another story. The Justice Department would not comment on possible prosecutions, saying the investigation was open.

"People have been keeping very good secrets for a very long time," Metress said.

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Times staff writers Rennie Sloan and John Beckham contributed to this report.

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