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Picking Of Jury Delays Opening

L. ALEX WILSON / Chicago Defender 24sep1955

After the murderers were acquitted, one tells how Emmett was murdered and what a brave young man he was:
The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi - Look magazine 24jan1956


Emmett Till murder case trial 24 Sept. 1955 —  THE DEFENSE — Defense battery in Till murder case is comprised of (left to right) Atty. J. W. Kellum of Tutwiler, with offices in Sumner; C. Sidney Carlton, Sumner; Harvey Henderson, Sumner; John W. Whitten, jr., and J. J. Breland.

THE DEFENSE — Defense battery in Till murder case is comprised of (left to right) Atty. J. W. Kellum of Tutwiler, with offices in Sumner; C. Sidney Carlton, Sumner; Harvey Henderson, Sumner; John W. Whitten, jr., and J. J. Breland.

Emmett Till murder case trial 24 Sept. 1955 —  THE DEFENSE — Defense battery in Till murder case is comprised of (left to right) Atty. J. W. Kellum of Tutwiler, with offices in Sumner; C. Sidney Carlton, Sumner; Harvey Henderson, Sumner; John W. Whitten, jr., and J. J. Breland.

THE DEFENDANTS — J. W. Milam (center) and Roy Bryant (right) indicted for the murder of Emmett Till, confer with one of their five attorneys, Sidney Carlton, in Sumner, Miss. The trial was scheduled to open Monday, in Sumner. Photo by INP.

SUMNER, Miss. — When court adjourned Monday afternoon no jury had been selected to hear the case for and against two men charged with the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, 14-year-old Chicagoan.

Gerald Chatham and R. B. Smith, III Prosecutors in the Emmett Till murder case.

Gerald Chatham and R. B. Smith, III 
Prosecutors in the Emmett Till murder case.

But a number of things, many of them precedent making and unusual, had occurred.

Difficulty In selection of the jury can be attributed to several factors:

1. — They had contributed to a defense fund for J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, half brothers charged with the crime.
2. — They were related to attorneys involved in the case or to the defendants.
3. — They had formed definite opinions about the case.
4. — They lived in the area where the crime was committed.

The day opened hot and humid, the heat eventually climbing to an almost unbearable 95 degrees that drove every one including Sheriff H Z Strider to abandon a white sports coat he was wearing when he briefed the press prior to opening of the court.


This correspondent was the only Negro reporter present when the briefing occurred. Strider explained to the more than 100 newsmen present that he had provided seats for 22 white newsmen inside the rail where they could easily hear the proceedings.

The Negro press, he explained, was to be limited to four seats directly behind the rail where the public is seated.

"We don't mix down here," he explained. "and don't intend to start now."

Strider was advised by this writer that the Negro newsmen might not be able to hear proceedings well from their positions. He said "Whenever you are unable to hear just let me know. Well have order in this court."

Sheriff Strider then told the newsmen they would have to go back downstairs and come up the front and into. the courtroom and submit to search.


The reporters were lightly frisk. ed and photographers had to allow deputies to rummage through their camera cases.

"I have received over 150 threatening letters and I don't intend to be shot. If there is any shooting, we would rather he doing it." Here he made reference to himself and to his deputies.

Judge Curtis Swango welcomed the press to the court after calling for order and allowed time before opening for photographers to make pictures. Here a precedent was established when a Negro photographer, J. J. Mason. representing Defender publications, climbed on chairs like other lensmen to get his "shots."

Then the judge laid down the rules for the press and others in the courtroom. No pictures were to be made during the transaction of the business of the court; no sketches; no recordings or broadcast.

He stated that smoking would be allowed and suggested that the men take off their coats for comfort.

Negro spectators numbering approximately 40 were seated and stood in the left rear of the courtroom. Outside of the court room in the corridor a crowd was jammed beneath the door.

The alleged slayers of Emmett L. Till, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were brought into the court accompanied by their wives.

The wives and children arrived at the Sumner courthouse in a green 1955 Chevrolet with a Memphis-Shelby County license No. 294-247.

During the court session the children played about in the court room while both Milam and Bryant sat quietly and without handcuffs. Both of the wives appeared to be slightly worried and not once during the session was a smile noted on either face.


Throughout the morning session both men maintained somber expressions. Milam appeared to be nervous, smoking incessantly and shifting about restlessly in his seat.

While almost the whole panel of 120 veniremen[1] was being exhausted for one reason or another, six whites armed with shot guns were reportedly patrolling the area near Money, Miss., where the crime occurred. The purpose, It is believed, was to find out why so much Negro traffic had been going through the area.

Prosecution attorneys, Gerald Chatham and Roy Smith III, made clear in their challenges to members selected for trial jury that they would press for a fair and impartial trial.


During the vigorous challenges three men were disqualified for contributing to a defense fund to aid the defendant; Six were tossed out for holding fixed opinions of the case and one was ordered to stand aside because he was the brother to one who had contributed to the defense fund. Another was disqualified because he was a distant relative of the defense attorney.

Earlier, Atty. Chatham said in his talk to the prospective jurors, "the State of Mississippi will take every step to see that an impartial and fair trial is held in this case."

When Atty. Smith took over the questioning he asked "Would you be moved by any consideration, race or anything else in helping to see that a fair trial is held?"

This line of questioning was responsible for eliminating most of the first panel selected for jury service.

What appears to be a lead to a sensational development in the Emmett L. Till slaying is now, being investigated. This writer is unable to comment further at this time.


Among the members of the Negro press present were: James Hicks of the Afro American Newspaper and NNPA; Simeon Booker, Clotye Murdock and David Jackson of Ebony; Mrs. Nannie Mitchell Turner, publisher of the St. Louis Argus, Steve Duncan and William B. Franklin of the St. Louis Argus; L. Alex Wilson, (Defender Publications) and Ernest Withers of the same paper.

Among members of the white press present were Clark Porteus of Memphis Press-Scimitar; John Popham of New York Times; Jim Kilgallen of INS; Paul Burton, of INS; Murray Kempton of New York Post; William Desmond, New York Daily News and John Gunter of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

[1] Definition of veniremen: People who are summoned to the courthouse so that they may be questioned and perhaps chosen as jurors in trials of civil or criminal cases. source: Nolo

Here's Cast For Sumner, Miss. Trial:
Pen Pictures Of Judge, Attorneys

Chicago Defender 24sep1955

The Judge

CLARKSDALE, Miss — "Judge Curtis Swango is one judge who runs his court." That statement was made by W. M. Simpson editor of the Sumner Sentinel, when he was queried about the Circuit court jurist who u on the bench during the Till trial in Sumner.

When this writer contacted Judge Swango in Sardis, (he had been expected in Sumner) Simpson's statement carried little doubt. 

He expressed himself in a deep rich voice which carried authority and professional cordiality.

Judge Swango is quite youthful, but a veteran in the field of Law He is 47 and has served in the Mississippi legislature for 15 years. His prep school study was done at Sardis, where he is now residing.

He is a graduate of Millsap college, Jackson, Miss, and received his LL.B. degree from the University of Mississippi. He has been serving now four years as a wrist.

While in the Mississippi legislature, he served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. lie has been married for 12 years.

Judge Swango was praised highly by residents of Sumner and of Memphis for his fairness toward the Negro. The consensus is "He's a fine man."


The Prosecution

HERNANDO, Miss. — The 49-year-old prosecutor for the Emmett L. Till case is a deliberate straight talking man with a serious mem [sic] and a kindly look in his piercing eyes.

You have probably heard of him and will be reading and hearing quite a bit more.

He is District Attorney Gerald Chatman, of Hernando, Miss., who leaves one with the impression that his burden is heavy, but that be is determined to follow through with it.

Tall broad-shouldered and heavy-set, he had the dignity befitting a man of his profession. His conversational speech reflects culture.

In addition to the answer he gives to the questions asked one notes three things about him (1) the alertness and steadiness of his eyes as he speaks directly (2) the sincerely in the overtones and undertones of his voice (3) the cautious fluency of reply.


When asked to comment on the opinion prevalent that the trial would be whitewashed he said: "I am leaving office in December because of ill health and on the advice of my doctor. I am going to do what is right in this case," he emphasized.

He added "I am not doing to do anything that is a departure from my record." Chatman was extremely modest about commenting on his record with regard to Negroes during his long tenure of service

"I suggest," he said, "that you talk with any of your people who know me. Better still, I tell you what to do. Talk with Sam P. Nesbitt, of the NAACP here."

A check about the Community and in Memphis, which is only about 30 miles from Hernando, revealed that he is highly respect-ed for his fairness,

Chatman has served as district attorney for 14 years, the longest period any one has held the office in the third district. He first completed the unexpired term of Jamie Whitten, who was elected to Congress from the district.

Then, Atty. Chatham was elected to office three times without opposition. His fourth term expires in December.

He received his LL.B. degree from the University of Mississippi in 1931. Married now 23 years, he is the father of four children. His father-in-law, Herbert Holmes, is Chancery court judge.


District Attorney Chatman, due to ill health, will be assisted in his prosecution of the Till case by a lawyer described as brilliant and outstanding in the field.

He is Special Asst. that. Atty. Gen. Robert B Smith III, of Ripley, Miss. Smith is a former FBI man and was appointed by Gov. Hugh White.

Asked whether any Negroes would be impaneled to serve on the jury, Atty. Chatman said "there is not a qualified Negro elector in Tallahatchie County. Only qualified electors are called for jury service."

He pointed out that a venire of 165 men were being called for service, from which 12 would be selected for duty. Each one of the 12 will be checked thoroughly by the prosecution he said

Chatham stated that he and his assistant, Atty. Smith III as of Sept 31 had not decided on whether they would ask for the maxi-, mum penalty.

Added late Saturday to the prosecution was Hamilton Caldwell. for four terms attorney for Tallahatchie county He is a native of Charleston, Miss., where he now resides.


The Defense

SUMNER, Miss — Bespectacled Atty. J. J. Breland, of Sumner, Miss., defense attorney in the Emmett L. Till case appears to be a rather amiable person. Now 65 years of age, and of medium height, he has been practicing law for 40 years."

He expressed himself quite free by when questioned by a Defender reporter.

Atty. Breland appeared to be proud of the fact he had lined up four of "the best lawyers in Sumner" to assist him.

They are Attys. J. W. Kellum, of Tutwiler, with offices at Sumner; C. Sidney Carlton of Sumner; Harvey Henderson of Sumner; and John W. Whitten. jr. Whitten. Jr. of Sumner, who is a cousin of Congressman Jamie Whitten.


Breland volunteered praise of the prosecution in the case Attys. Gerald Chatham and R. B. Smith III.

"I know them both," he said, "they are outstanding men."

The defense lawyer attended prep school at Hattiesburg, Miss He received his BS degree from the University of Mississippi, and his LL.B. Degree from the University of Mississippi.

He cites as one of his outstanding achievements in criminal law the defense of M. P. Studivant, of Glendoraw, Miss., who was involved in a slaying in 1941.

When asked whether he expected the prosecution to ask for the maximum sentence in the Till case he said: "yes I do."

He pointed out that no 'Nigras' are qualified to serve on the jury, since there are no Negro register ed voters in the County.

Breland has been married 37 years, but the couple have no children. He is a veteran of World War II, in which he served as a first Lieutenant.

9 Witnesses Called For Prosecution 

Chicago Defender 24sep1955


SUMNER, Miss. — Mose Wright, uncle of the lynched Emmett Tell, and his mother Mrs. Mamie Bradley of Chicago will be among

the prosecution's witnesses at the trial that opened here Monday.

On trial are J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, indicted for the murder of the Chicago youngster who was kidnpped and lynched as he allegedly wolf whistled at Bryant's wife.

Other witnesses who have been summoned to testify for the state are: Sheriff George Smith, of Leflore county; Deputy Sheriff E. Cothran, of Laflore county; Sheriff H. C. Strider of Tallahatchie county; Simeon Wright, nephew of Till; Dr. T. B.. Otkin, a medical specialist of Greenwood, Miss.; Mayor Chick Nelson of Tutwiller, Miss. and Garland Melton, deputy sheriff of Sumner.

Chief defense attorney J. J. Breland, refused to disclose who would be summoned to testify for the defense.

Sumner Unhappy Over Trial

Don't Want Mess Here, They Say 

by L. ALEX WILSON / Chicago Defender 24sep1955


SUMNER. Miss.—This quiet little cotton Delta town, population 527 with approximately 50 percent Negroes, was not tense on the eve of the Emmett L. Till trial, but quite widespread was a deep feeling of resentment.

"A GOOD PLACE TO RAISE A BOY" — That's what the sign says of Sumner, Miss., where two men are on trial in the Emmett L. Till murder case.

"A GOOD PLACE TO RAISE A BOY" — That's what the sign says of Sumner, Miss., where two men are on trial in the Emmett L. Till murder case.

The resentment was over the "dumping of the trial on our town when we had nothing

to do with the heinous crime This writer talked with several white citizens and in each Instance found evidence of cordiality and either mute resentment over the trial site, dictated by law, or um restrained vocal expression abs it


W. M. Simpson, editor of the Sumner Sentinel said "There are two things we don't like about the case. The outside interference and the fact that the trial, though required by law, will be held here "

"You have been given friendly treatment since you've been here haven't you?" he asked. I admitted I had.

He pointed out that the two races had been getting along together in Sumner.

Roy Moyer, owner of a dry goods store on the main street described the slaying of Till as "heinous and unnecessary."

But, he made it quite clear he didn't like the manner in which the nation's press by large had handled the Till case, nor the interference from "rabble-rousing groups."

He charged that similar crimes occur in large cities of the North. ''Mississippi is a sovereign state and has shown that it will handle this case. We don't like meddling from outsiders "


One youthful white man said briefly: 'We don't like notoriety being brought to our town by this trial."

Al Thomas, a deputy sheriff was cordial but made no comment on the trial.

Circuit Court Clerk Mrs Rogers gave assistance in getting facts from the records. However, there appeared some distaste for the trial in the courthouse.

Mrs. Nellie J. Mabrey, well-known and well-liked Negro home demonstration agent in Tallahatchie county with headquarters in Charleston, Miss. (northern part of the county) stated that she had not detected any tension over the trial. Mrs Mabrey had been working to the county for 18 years.

Each year she stages a huge 4-H Day rally which is loyally supported and endorsed by white and colored. Mrs. Mabrey has one daughter, Mrs Valda L. Pandy, an optometrist who resides in Chicago at 3745 South Parkway.

Unless there is an unusual development in Sumner, visitors here for the trial will find the residents cordial and some friendly.

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