The Trial of the Killers and Its Aftermath

Tallahatchie County CourthouseIt was only three weeks after Emmett Till was abducted that his accused killers were placed on trial in Mississippi. Tillís abduction and slaying had already made international headlines, and they continued throughout the week in September, when Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam sat accused of murder in a crowded courtroom. 

Mississippi Governor Hugh White called for a special prosecutor to try the case, and this was found in District Attorney Gerald Chatham. All five of Sumnerís attorneys worked pro bono in defense of the accused. Circuit judge Curtis Swango presided.  Over seventy reporters and photographers, black and white, descended upon the tiny Delta town. For the first time. Southern racism was not only a national story, but an international one.

By way of introduction, the trial, by its participants, may be summarized as follows:


State of Mississippi vs J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant

Held in Sumner, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi

September 19-23, 1955



Judge Curtis M. Swango


Prosecution Team:

Gerald Chatham

Robert B. Smith, III

James Hamilton Caldwell, Jr.


Defense Team:

Jesse Josiah Breland

C. Sidney Carlton

Robert Harvey Henderson

Joseph W. Kellum

John W. Whitten


Prosecution Witnesses:

Mary Amanda Bradley, Mamie Till Bradley, John Ed Cothran,

Robert Hodges, Chester Miller, Benjamin L. Mims, Charles Nelson,

Add Reed, Willie Reed, George Smith,

C. A. Strickland, Moses Wright


Defense Witnesses:

Lee Russell Allison, L. W. Boyce, Carolyn Bryant,

Grover Duke, Pete McGaa, Harry D. Malone,

Juanita Milam, Luther B. Otkens, Harold Perry,

James Sanders, Franklin Smith, Henry Clarence Strider



Howard Armstrong, Ed Devaney, George Holland,

Bishop Matthews, Davis Newton, Jim Pennington,

Lee L. Price, Gus Ramsey, James Shaw, Jr.,

Travis Thomas, James Toole, Ray Tribble


Willie D. Haven


Day One: September 19, 1955


Day Two: September 20, 1955


Day Three: September 21, 1955


Day Four: September 22, 1955


Day Five: September 23, 1955


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Emmett Till