I am sure there were times in your years here at Hampshire when you doubted you would ever see this day. But you kept going, one step at a time, and here you are. Sometimes all you can do in life, in the harder moments, is to put one foot in front of the other. You will always come to some new victory, despite your darkest worries and despair.
We–all of us–sincerely congratulate you.
Today will stay in your memory as a reminder that you have the power to shape your own life. That is not small change in your pocket; it is a great and golden treasure.
For it is the loss of faith in our personal power that drives the woes of the world.
When I was a child growing up in New Hampshire, my father worked in a furniture warehouse. It was modest work, but he gave it all his honest muscle, and, with what he earned, he knew he would be able to build a house and provide for his wife and five children, which he did beautifully. He felt in control of the future, and that gave him the emotional freedom to be a good citizen and a good neighbor.
When we feel insecure in our power to take care of our families and direct the future of our own lives, we fall into a kind of social mental illness that encourages us to distrust and then hate other people and work against their interests.
Radical religious leaders –unlike the wiser men and women of their faiths –promote that hatred when they make people feel powerless; when their people are made to believe that all power comes from some selfish, egomaniacal God who shares none of His power with His people, With some shared power from on High, might not the people be able to shape a happier world –a world where the beautiful differences of lifestyle and belief are tolerated and celebrated–like so many different birds and flowers in God ‘s garden?
When people are made to feel powerless, either by religious despot or political preacher, they feel despair, even if they disguise the anxiety and pain of that powerlessness as piety or as patriotism–or both.
The current effort by zealots to pass laws against the interests of gay people is a good example of all this. We have had gay members of our society for as long as there are human records, but that does not stop some people from thinking it is suddenly new and dangerous and in need of suppressing. They do so partly out of sheer ignorance, of course, but their motivations are grounded in fear of their own powerlessness. The coming and going of anti-gay politics is a simple and accurate barometer of how much power is being stolen from the people by political leaders and their business partners.
In the Germany of the 1930s, when politicians began to pass measures harmful to minority groups, most especially the Jews, but also gays and gypsies and others, the average German was struggling to survive in a worldwide depression that came on the heels of the economic catastrophe in Germany following the First World War.
It was not enough to be a hard worker in a furniture warehouse or anywhere else. Monetary inflation reached such an extreme that people literally carried cash around in bushel baskets to pay for their groceries –if they had cash at all. How could parents feel that they were in control of their children ‘s futures and happiness? They could not. And, for the master politicians, it was an easy trick to redirect that insecurity and anger away from themselves, who were indeed the guilty parties, and toward sacrificial victims.
That is what is happening in the United States today. The best jobs of our middle class have been wiped out by big box stores, the exporting of our jobs and the tearing down of all the garden walls of protective tariff. It continues in a way that gives people great fear for their own futures. Our safety nets, such as Social Security and our Bill of Rights, are being cut from under us, for the financial benefit of a few.
If the great majority of America ‘s are feeling insecure and fearful of the future –of their children ‘s futures–what might the master politicians do to redirect that fear? Well, you have seen misdirected into piety and false patriotism.
You have seen it with your own eyes. People take their anger out with ballot measures against their gay neighbors. They de-fund our poverty programs and public schools. They intrude on the privacy of people in their most personal decisions of life and death, depriving them of their power over their own lives and bodies. They applaud the attack of other countries on false evidence and they allow the mistreatment of their men, women and children of those countries with mass killings, torture, and a shedding of the Geneva Convention.
They meekly allow the anthrax attack on the minority leaders of our Congress so that those leaders will step to a more military march, and they accept the fact that this attack, made with the most traceable of chemicals, has produced no arrests.
They accept that, in the last election, electronic voting machines gave a five percent deflection from exit polls, all in the same political direction, and they accept the fact that this horror is not even reported by the media.
I am not, on this grand occasion, talking about partisan politics, I am talking about our very freedom.
Our freedom comes first from our belief in it. We have the ability to shape our futures. We are in charge of our communities and our nation. We bear responsibility for what happens here. The moment we lose faith in these core beliefs, we are no longer a free people.
I ask you to hold this day in your memory, to remind yourself that you have the power to make a difference in your own life and in the world.
] I have to struggle for every breath now, but the air is still free, and you have come into your maturity at a moment when we, you elders, say to you, here is a great nation for you! Here is the land of the free, but, by God, it had better be the land of the brave if you would keep it. You had better be the patriots you now require.
But do not act from anger; the defense of freedom and fairness comes best from a loving and tolerant heart.
Accept no leaders who would lead you with fear or anger –who are forever dividing and punishing the people instead of uniting, encouraging and empowering them. Great leaders lead from a better vision of a possible future. Great leaders –and you must include yourself in this –lead themselves, their families, friends, communities, nations and their world from the great, golden idea that people should be free and should in every way be encouraged to fulfill their highest potentials and live life responsibly as they choose. Great leadership comes from love, and great societies come from confident, mass empowerment.
Throughout your lives, your best friends will be the people who remind you that you are really a genius, that you have great gifts to give other people and the world, that you have the power to be happy and to help others be happy, too. Stick to those friends, and give that service to them in return. Apply the same rule to your political leaders. Do they make you feel your power as part of a great community, or do they make you want to hide in a bomb shelter? You must decide, for we Americans –and this is a hard fact –always get the leaders we deserve.
Not long ago I read from the Declaration of Independence in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. I was arrested and jailed for doing so. As I thought that was a violation of my free speech rights under the Constitution, I went back and read from the Bill of Rights. That landed me in jail, too.
I felt freer in that jail, because I had spoken out as a free person, than I have ever felt in the open air, and I am not finished being a free American, whatever happy costs await me.
I do not know what is in store for you. But I know that courage is freedom, and freedom is joy. Be fully who you are, letting the world get used to you–it will. Find a loving community of friends who support your ever-flowering growth, which is a lifetime proposition. And take seriously your role as an American. Understand what it means to be an American. It means to take responsibility for mature self-governance. In a world where the polar ice is melting and atmosphere ozone levels are thinning daily, and in a world where the divide between the very wealthy and the literally starving is growing rapidly, where one child in five goes to bed hungry. We must take our responsible and loving place at the table of power.
Our old revolution against oppression and unfairness is never concluded. It is a joyful revolution, if you will put yourself fearlessly into it, keeping always an open mind and a tolerant heart –for those are the true flags of justice and freedom. Let those lofty banners signify your life now and onward to the last day of your long, happy, meaningful and love-filled life.
These children in these cases are guaranteed by the states some twelve years of education in varying degrees, and this idea, if I understand it, to leave it to the states until they work it out-and I think that is a most ingenious argument- you leave it to the states, they say, and then they say that the states haven’t done anything about it in a hundred years, so for that reason this Court doesn’t touch it.
The argument of judicial restraint has no application in this case. There is a relationship between federal and state, but there is no corollary or relationship as to the Fourteenth Amendment.
The duty of enforcing, the duty of following the Fourteenth Amendment, is placed upon the states. The duty of enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment is placed upon this Court, and the argument that they make over and over again to my mind is the same type of argument they charge us with making, the same argument Charles Sumner made. Possibly so.
And we hereby charge them with making the same argument that was made before the Civil War, the same argument that was made during the period between the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Plessy v. Ferguson case.
And I think it makes no progress for us to find out who made what argument. It is our position that whether or not you base this case solely on the Intent of Congress or whether you base it on the logical extension of the doctrine as set forth in the McLaurin case, on either basis the same conclusion is required, which is that this Court makes it clear to all of these states that in administering their governmental functions, at least those that are vital not to the life of the state alone, not to the country alone, but vital to the world in general, that little pet feelings of race, little pet feelings of custom-I got the feeling on hearing the discussion yesterday that when you put a white child in a school with a whole lot of colored children, the child would fall apart or something. Everybody knows that is not true.
Those same kids in Virginia and South Carolina-and I have seen them do it-they play in the streets together, they play on their farms together, they go down the road together, they separate to go to school, they come out of school and play ball together. They have to be separated in school.
There is some magic to it. You can have them voting together, you can have them not restricted because of law in the houses they live in. You can have them going to the same state university and the same college, but if they go to elementary and high school, the world will fall apart. And it is the exact same argument that has been made to this Court over and over again, and we submit that when they charge us with making a legislative argument, it is in truth they who are making the legislative argument.
They can’t take race out of this case. From the day this case was filed until this moment, nobody has in any form or fashion, despite the fact I made it clear in the opening argument that I was relying on it, done anything to distinguish this statute from the Black Codes, which they must admit, because nobody can dispute, say anything anybody wants to say, one way or the other, the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to deprive the states of power to enforce Black Codes or anything else like it.
We charge that they are Black Codes. They obviously are Black Codes if you read them. They haven’t denied that they are Black Codes, so if the Court wants to very narrowly decide this case, they can decide it on that point.
So whichever way it is done, the only way that this Court can decide this case in opposition to our position, is that there must be some reason which gives the state the right to make a classification that they can make in regard to nothing else in regard to Negroes, and we submit the only way to arrive at that decision is to find that for some reason Negroes are inferior to all other human beings.
Nobody will stand in the Court and urge that, and in order to arrive at the decision that they want us to arrive at, there would have to be some recognition of a reason why of all of the multitudinous groups of people in this country you have to single out Negroes and give them this separate treatment.
It can’t be because of slavery in the past, because there are very few groups in this country that haven’t had slavery some place back in history of their groups. It can’t be color because there are Negroes as white as the drifted snow, with blue eyes, and they are just as segregated as the colored man.
The only thing can be is an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible, and now is the time, we submit, that this Court should make it clear that that is not what our Constitution stands for.
Thank you, sir.” Thurgood Marshall, Excerpts from his statement to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education: http://www.blackpast.org/1953-
That same day, President Harry S. Truman asked Bernard Baruch to be the lead United States negotiator at the United Nations. At age seventy-five an “elder statesman” who had served American presidents in various capacities since World War I, Baruch inclined toward drafting his own proposal and feared being boxed in by the parameters set by the Acheson-Lilienthal report, which had become a public document. After several months of give and take, however, he accepted the Acheson-Lilienthal plan largely as his own. Baruch’s one major change was on the issue of enforcement. The Acheson-Lilienthal plan intentionally remained silent on enforcement, not wanting to put forth terms that suggested mistrust of the Soviet Union. Baruch, by contrast, insisted on specific penalties. Violations would be met, he asserted, with “immediate and certain” punishment that would not be subject to Security Council veto. On June 14, Baruch unveiled the proposal in a speech to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. The Baruch plan, as it came to be called, was, as Baruch paraphrased Abraham Lincoln, “the last, best hope of earth.”
Not everyone saw it that way. Five days later, Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet delegate, proposed an international convention prohibiting the possession, production, and use of nuclear weapons. Only after the convention was implemented, Gromyko stated, should measures be considered to ensure “the strict observance of the terms and obligations.” He also rejected any attempts to negate the veto. Gromyko later added that the Baruch proposals could not be accepted “either as a whole or in their separate parts.”
The debate in the United Nations was a debate in name only. In the following six months, neither side demonstrated the least inclination to alter its stated position. For their part, the Soviets never expressed any intent either to negotiate seriously or, as an analysis by the American embassy in Moscow noted, abandon their “own gigantic atomic research project.” In one of the rare recorded instances of a private diplomatic exchange, the Russian diplomat A. A. Sobolev told Franklin A. Lindsay, an aide to Baruch, that the Soviet Union was not interested in the Baruch proposals but sought “freedom to pursue its own policies in complete freedom and without any interference or control from the outside.” Discouraged by the exchange, Lindsay concluded afterwards that stopping bomb production would in “no way induce the Russians to accept any form of international inspection and control.” He added that this “strongly indicates that no general understanding based on mutual trust and cooperation is possible between the two systems of government.”
As for United States policy, Baruch stayed the course. Although disagreement among American officials existed on the veto issue, no consideration was given to making concessions on the overall proposal consisting of the atomic development authority and staged implementation of exchange and control. The United States, believing that Soviet troops posed a threat in Europe with the rapid demobilization of American conventional forces, refused to surrender its atomic deterrent without adequate international controls. Unwilling to surrender its veto power, the Soviet Union, in the end, abstained from the December 31, 1946, vote on Baruch’s proposal on the grounds that it did not prohibit the bomb. Token debate on the plan continued into 1948, but the Baruch plan, in fact, was a dead letter by early 1947. At the same time, the Soviet Union continued its crash effort to develop its own bomb. The United States continued to develop and expand its own nuclear arsenal. And, in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, the Cold War set in. …
- Informing the Public, August 1945
- The Manhattan Engineer District, 1945-1946
- First Steps toward International Control, 1944-1945
- Search for a Policy on International Control, 1945
- Negotiating International Control, 1945-1946
- Civilian Control of Atomic Energy, 1945-1946
- Operation Crossroads, July 1946
- The VENONA Intercepts, 1946-1980
- The Cold War, 1945-1990
- Nuclear Proliferation, 1949-present
While negotiations on international control of the atom went nowhere and deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union ushered in the Cold War, a domestic debate took place over the long-term management of America’s nuclear program. As they did with international control, Vannevar Bush and James B. Conant took the initial lead. In September 1944, they proposed to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson setting up postwar a civilian twelve-member atomic energy commission, with four members representing the military services, that would control not only large-scale production but also research involving minute amounts of material.
The issue of domestic control remained largely dormant until July 1945 when the Interim Committeeconsidered a draft atomic energy bill prepared by two War Department lawyers, Brigadier General Kenneth C. Royall and William L. Marbury. Following the basic outline of Bush’s and Conant’s proposal, the draft legislation established a part-time, nine-member commission with responsibilities very similar to those of the Manhattan Project. The legislation in comparison to the Bush-Conant plan provided for an even stronger military presence, with again four representatives from the military services on a smaller-sized commission. Similar as it was to their own proposal, Bush and Conant now believed, as the war was coming to a close, that only civilians should serve on the commission. They also thought that excessive power was being granted to a peacetime organization. Royall and Marbury made modest revisions to the draft legislation, but these did not fundamentally alter the level of military control and government dominance in atomic activities.
Following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the War Department pushed forward with the draft legislation. After affected federal agencies approved, President Harry S. Truman advocated speedy passage of the congressional version of the bill, the May-Johnson bill, in his October 3special address to Congress on atomic energy. General Leslie Groves, as well as Bush and Conant, testified at hearings in the House of Representatives that the sweeping powers granted the proposed commission were necessary and that only government control of atomic power could prevent its misuse. Although Ernest Lawrence, Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, and some of the other lead scientists had certain misgivings, they also regarded the bill as acceptable. Many of the scientists at the Met Lab and at Oak Ridge, however, were not so sure. They complained that the bill was objectionable because it was designed to maintain military control over nuclear research, a situation that had been tolerable during the war but was unacceptable during peacetime when free scientific interchange should be resumed. Particularly onerous to the scientific opponents were the proposed penalties for security violations contained in the May-Johnson bill -– ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Organized scientific opposition in Washington slowed the progress of the bill and ultimately doomed it. A growing coalition of scientists, government officials, and legislators came out in opposition to the May-Johnson bill, and Truman privately withdrew his support but did not offer a substitute.
Civilian versus military control had become the core issue in the legislative battle over atomic energy. On December 20, Brien McMahon, freshman Democratic senator from Connecticut who two months earlier had successfully created and became chair of the Senate’s Special Committee on Atomic Energy, introduced a substitute to the May-Johnson bill. His bill, which called for five civilian commissioners and gave the commission strict control over the production of fissionable material and the fabrication and stockpiling of weapons, essentially excluded the military. Hearings on the new McMahon bill began in late January 1946. Groves and Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson opposed McMahon’s bill, citing weak security provisions and the low military presence. Groves also disliked the stipulation that commission members be full time (he thought that more eminent commissioners could be obtained if work was part-time), and he objected to the bill’s provision that atomic weapons be held in civilian rather than military custody. These arguments were not without effect. Although few in Congress advocated military control, most did not want the military totally excluded from atomic energy matters. As a result, the McMahon bill, over the next several months, underwent considerable revision. The Senate approved the bill on June 1, and the House approved it on July 20, with a subsequent conference committee eliminating most substantive amendments added by the House. President Truman signed the McMahon Act, known officially as the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, on August 1.
The sometimes bitter debate between those who advocated continued military stewardship of the nation’s arsenal and those who saw continued military control as inimical to American traditions ended in victory for civilian authority but with considerable ongoing military influence. Under the terms of the 1946 act, the Army’s responsibilities for the nation’s atomic energy program transferred to a civilian agency, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The act called for a commission consisting of five full-time, civilian presidential appointees, serving staggered five-year terms, and a general manager who administered day-to-day operations. The act mandated four operational divisions: research, production, engineering, and military application, with the director of the division of military application required to be a member of the armed forces. Under the act, the commission was to be the “exclusive owner” of production facilities but could let contracts to operate them. This meant the commission could, if it so desired, continue the system of contractor operation initiated by the Manhattan Engineer District. The commission was to take possession as well of “all atomic weapons and parts thereof” but, unlike in the original McMahon bill, the act contained the provision that the President “from time to time” may direct the commission to deliver “weapons to the armed forces for such use as he deems necessary in the interest of national defense.” The act also created a General Advisory Committee and a Military Liaison Committee. The General Advisory Committee, consisting of nine presidential appointees, was to provide assistance and advice to the commission on scientific and technical issues. The Military Liaison Committee, consisting of representatives of the War and Navy Departments, was to provide for input by defense officials. Finally, the act established in Congress a Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE) composed of nine members each from the Senate and House of Representatives to oversee atomic affairs.
Manhattan Project assets transferred to the Atomic Energy Commission atmidnight, December 31, 1946. The AEC exercised governmental control over military, regulatory, and developmental aspects of the atom until 1975 when the agency was disestablished. In its place, Congress created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oversee the nuclear power industry and other civilian uses and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) to coordinate energy development including nuclear power. The AEC’s weapons program was folded into ERDA. In 1977, ERDA and the energy programs from a number of other agencies were brought into the new Department of Energy.” The Manhattan Project–An Interactive History; “Negotiating International Control, 1945-46,” & “Civilian Control of Atomic Energy, 1945-46,” Department of Energy:https://www.osti.gov/opennet/
Numero Quatro—“Editors Note: In the long history of man’s inhumanity to man, racial conflict has produced some of the most horrible examples of brutality. The recent slaying of Emmett Till in Mississippi is a case in point. The editors of Look are convinced that they are presenting here, for the first time, the real story of that killing — the story no jury heard and no newspaper reader saw.
Disclosed here is the true account of the slaying in Mississippi of a Negro youth named Emmett Till.
Last September in Sumner, Miss., a petit jury found the youth’s admitted abductors not guilty of murder. In November, in Greenwood, a grand jury declined to indict them for kidnapping.
Of the murder trial, the Memphis Commercial Appeal said: “Evidence necessary for convicting on a murder charge was lacking.” But with truth absent, hypocrisy and myth have flourished. Now, hypocrisy can be exposed; myth dispelled. Here are the facts.
Carolyn Holloway Bryant is 21, five feet tall, weighs 103 pounds. An Irish girl, with black hair and black eyes, she is a small farmer’s daughter who, at 17, quit high school at Indianola, Miss., to marry a soldier, Roy Bryant, then 20, now 24. The couple have two boys, three and two; and they operate a store at a dusty crossroads called Money: post office, filling station and three stores clustered around a school and a gin, and set in the vast, lonely cotton patch that is the Mississippi Delta.
Carolyn and Roy Bryant are poor: no car, no TV. They live in the back of the store which Roy’s brothers helped set up when he got out of the 82nd Airborne in 1953. They sell “snuff-and-fatback” to Negro field hands on credit: and they earn little because, for one reason, the government has been giving the Negroes food they formerly bought.
Carolyn and Roy Bryant’s social life is visits to their families, to the Baptist church, and, whenever they can borrow a car, to a drive-in, with the kids sleeping in the back seat. They call Shane the best picture they ever saw.
For extra money, Carolyn tends store when Roy works outside — like truck driving for a brother. And he has many brothers. His mother had two husbands, 11 children. The first five — all boys — were “Milam children”; the next six — three boys, three girls — were “Bryant children.”
This is a lusty and devoted clan. They work, fight, vote and play as a family. The “half” in their fraternity is forgotten. For years, they have operated a chain of cottonfield stores, as well as trucks and mechanical cotton pickers. In relation to the Negroes, they are somewhat like white traders in portions of Africa today; and they are determined to resist the revolt of colored men against white rule.
On Wednesday evening, August 24, 1955, Roy was in Texas, on a brother’s truck. He had carted shrimp from New Orleans to San Antonio, proceeded to Brownsville. Carolyn was alone in the store. But back in the living quarters was her sister-in-law Juanita Milam, 27, with her two small sons and Carolyn’s two. The store was kept open till 9 on week nights, 11 on Saturday.
When her husband was away, Carolyn Bryant never slept in the store, never stayed there alone after dark. Moreover, in the Delta, no white woman ever travels country roads after dark unattended by a man.
This meant that during Roy’s absences — particularly since he had no car — there was family inconvenience. Each afternoon, a sister-in-law arrived to stay with Carolyn until closing time. Then, the two women, with their children, waited for a brother-in-law to convoy them to his home. Next morning, the sister-in-law drove Carolyn back.
Juanita Milam had driven from her home in Glendora. She had parked in front of the store to the left; and under the front seat of this car was Roy Bryant’s pistol, a .38 Colt automatic. Carolyn knew it was there. After 9, Juanita’s husband, J. W. Milam, would arrive in his pickup to shepherd them to his home for the night.
About 7:30 pm, eight young Negroes — seven boys and a girl — in a ’46 Ford had stopped outside. They included sons, grandsons and a nephew of Moses (Preacher) Wright, 64, a ‘cropper. They were between 13 and 19 years old. Four were natives of the Delta and others, including the nephew, Emmett (Bobo) Till, were visiting from the Chicago area.
Bobo Till was 14 years old: born on July 25, 1941. He was stocky, muscular, weighing about 160, five feet four or five. Preacher later testified: “He looked like a man.”
Bobo’s party joined a dozen other young Negroes, including two other girls, in front of the store. Bryant had built checkerboards there. Some were playing checkers, others were wrestling and “kiddin’ about girls.”
Bobo bragged about his white girl. He showed the boys a picture of a white girl in his wallet; and to their jeers of disbelief, he boasted of success with her.
“You talkin’ mighty big, Bo,” one youth said. “There’s a pretty little white woman in the store. Since you know how to handle white girls, let’s see you go in and get a date with her?”
“You ain’t chicken, are yuh, Bo?” another youth taunted him.
Bobo had to fire or fall back. He entered the store, alone, stopped at the candy case. Carolyn was behind the counter; Bobo in front. He asked for two cents’ worth of bubble gum. She handed it to him. He squeezed her hand and said: “How about a date, baby?”
She jerked away and started for Juanita Milam. At the break between counters, Bobo jumped in front of her, perhaps caught her at the waist, and said: “You needn’t be afraid o’ me, Baby. I been with white girls before.”
At this point, a cousin ran in, grabbed Bobo and began pulling him out of the store. Carolyn now ran, not for Juanita, but out the front, and got the pistol from the Milam car.
Outside, with Bobo being ushered off by his cousins, and with Carolyn getting the gun, Bobo executed the “wolf whistle” which gave the case its name:
THE WOLF-WHISTLE MURDER: A NEGRO “CHILD” OR “BOY” WHISTLED AT HER AND THEY KILLED HIM.
That was the sum of the facts on which most newspaper readers based an opinion.
The Negroes drove away; and Carolyn, shaken, told Juanita. The two women determined to keep the incident from their “Men-folks.” They didn’t tell J. W. Milam when he came to escort them home.
By Thursday afternoon, Carolyn Bryant could see the story was getting around. She spent Thursday night at the Milams, where at 4 a.m. (Friday) Roy got back from Texas. Since he had slept little for five nights, he went to bed at the Milams’ while Carolyn returned to the store.
During Friday afternoon, Roy reached the store, and shortly thereafter a Negro told him what “the talk” was, and told him that the “Chicago boy” was “visitin’ Preacher.” Carolyn then told Roy what had happened.
Once Roy Bryant knew, in his environment, in the opinion of most white people around him, for him to have done nothing would have marked him for a coward and a fool.
On Friday night, he couldn’t do anything. He and Carolyn were alone, and he had no car. Saturday was collection day, their busy day in the store. About 10:30 Saturday night, J. W. Milam drove by. Roy took him aside.
“I want you to come over early in the morning,” he said. “I need a little transportation.”
J.W. protested: “Sunday’s the only morning I can sleep. Can’t we make it around noon?”
Roy then told him.
“I’ll be there,” he said. “Early.”
J. W. drove to another brother’s store at Minter City, where he was working. He closed that store about 12:30 a.m., drove home to Glendora. Juanita was away, visiting her folks at Greenville. J. W. had been thinking. He decided not to go to bed. He pumped the pickup — a half-ton ’55 Chevrolet — full of gas and headed for Money.
J. W. “Big Milam” is 36: six feet two, 235 pounds; an extrovert. Short boots accentuate his height; khaki trousers; red sports shirt; sun helmet. Dark-visaged; his lower lip curls when he chuckles; and though bald, his remaining hair is jet-black.
He is slavery’s plantation overseer. Today, he rents Negro-driven mechanical cotton pickers to plantation owners. Those who know him say that he can handle Negroes better than anybody in the country.
Big Milam soldiered in the Patton manner. With a ninth-grade education, he was commissioned in battle by the 75th Division. He was an expert platoon leader, expert street fighter, expert in night patrol, expert with the “grease gun,” with every device for close range killing. A German bullet tore clear through his chest; his body bears “multiple shrapnel wounds.” Of his medals, he cherishes one: combat infantryman’s badge.
Big Milam, like many soldiers, brought home his favorite gun: the .45 Colt automatic pistol.
“Best weapon the Army’s got,” he says. “Either for shootin’ or sluggin’.”
Two hours after Big Milam got the word — the instant minute he could close the store — he was looking for the Chicago Negro.
Big Milam reached Money a few minutes shy of 2 a.m., Sunday, August 28. The Bryants were asleep; the store was dark but for the all-night light. He rapped at the back door, and when Roy came, he said: “Let’s go. Let’s make that trip now.”
Roy dressed, brought a gun: this one was a .45 Colt. Both men were and remained — cold sober. Big Milam had drunk a beer at Minter City around 9; Roy had had nothing.
There was no moon as they drove to Preacher’s house: 2.8 miles east of Money.
Preacher’s house stands 50 feet right of the gravel road, with cedar and persimmon trees in the yard. Big Milam drove the pickup in under the trees. He was bareheaded, carrying a five-cell flashlight in his left hand, the .45 in the right.
Roy Bryant pounded on the door.
Preacher: “Who’s that?”
Bryant: “Mr. Bryant from Money, Preacher.”
Preacher: “All right, sir. Just a minute.”
Preacher came out of the screened-in porch.
Bryant: “Preacher, you got a boy from Chicago here?”
Bryant: “I want to talk to him.”
Preacher: “Yessir. I’ll get him.”
Preacher led them to a back bedroom where four youths were sleeping in two beds. In one was Bobo Till and Simeon Wright, Preacher’s youngest son. Bryant had told Preacher to turn on the lights; Preacher had said they were out of order. So only the flashlight was used.
The visit was not a complete surprise. Preacher testified that he had heard of the “trouble,” that he “sho’ had” talked to his nephew about it. Bobo himself had been afraid; he had wanted to go home the day after the incident. The Negro girl in the party urged that he leave. “They’ll kill him,” she had warned. But Preacher’s wife, Elizabeth Wright, had decided that the danger was being magnified; she had urged Bobo to “finish yo’ visit.”
“I thought they might say something to him, but I didn’t think they’d kill a boy,” Preacher said.
Big Milam shined the light in Bobo’s face, said: “You the nigger who did the talking?”
“Yeah,” Bobo replied.
Milam: “Don’t say, ‘Yeah’ to me: I’ll blow your head off. Get your clothes on.”
Bobo had been sleeping in his shorts. He pulled on a shirt and trousers, then reached for his socks.
“Just the shoes,” Milam hurried him.
“I don’t wear shoes without socks,” Bobo said: and he kept the gun-bearers waiting while he put on his socks, then a pair of canvas shoes with thick crepe soles.
Preacher and his wife tried two arguments in the boy’s behalf.
“He ain’t got good sense,” Preacher begged. “He didn’t know what he was doing. Don’t take him.”
“I’ll pay you gentlemen for the damages,” Elizabeth Wright said.
“You niggers go back to sleep,” Milam replied.
They marched him into the yard, told him to get in the back of the pickup and lie down. He obeyed. They drove toward Money.
Elizabeth Wright rushed to the home of a white neighbor, who got up, looked around, but decided he could do nothing. Then, she and Preacher drove to the home of her brother, Crosby Smith, at Sumner; and Crosby Smith, on Sunday morning, went to the sheriff’s office at Greenwood.
The other young Negroes stayed at Preacher’s house until daylight, when Wheeler Parker telephoned his mother in Chicago, who in turn notified Bobo’s mother, Mamie Bradley, 33, 6427 S. St. Lawrence.
Had there been any doubt as to the identity of the “Chicago boy who done the talking,” Milam and Bryant would have stopped at the store for Carolyn to identify him. But there had been no denial. So they didn’t stop at the store. At Money, they crossed the Tallahatchie River and drove west.
Their intention was to “just whip him… and scare some sense into him.” And for this chore, Big Milam knew “the scariest place in the Delta.” He had come upon it last year hunting wild geese. Over close to Rosedale, the Big River bends around under a bluff. “Brother, she’s a 100-foot sheer drop, and she’s a 100 feet deep after you hit.”
Big Milam’s idea was to stand him up there on that bluff, “whip” him with the .45, and then shine the light on down there toward that water and make him think you’re gonna knock him in.
“Brother, if that won’t scare the Chicago ——-, hell won’t.”
Searching for this bluff, they drove close to 75 miles. Through Shellmound, Schlater, Doddsville, Ruleville, Cleveland to the intersection south of Rosedale. There they turned south on Mississippi No. 1, toward the entrance to Beulah Lake. They tried several dirt and gravel roads, drove along the levee. Finally, they gave up: in the darkness, Big Milam couldn’t find his bluff.
They drove back to Milam’s house at Glendora, and by now it was 5 a.m.. They had been driving nearly three hours, with Milam and Bryant in the cab and Bobo lying in the back.
At some point when the truck slowed down, why hadn’t Bobo jumped and run? He wasn’t tied; nobody was holding him. A partial answer is that those Chevrolet pickups have a wraparound rear window the size of a windshield. Bryant could watch him. But the real answer is the remarkable part of the story.
Bobo wasn’t afraid of them! He was tough as they were. He didn’t think they had the guts to kill him.
Milam: “We were never able to scare him. They had just filled him so full of that poison that he was hopeless.”
Back of Milam’s home is a tool house, with two rooms each about 12 feet square. They took him in there and began “whipping” him, first Milam then Bryant smashing him across the head with those .45’s. Pistol-whipping: a court-martial offense in the Army… but MP’s have been known to do it…. And Milam got information out of German prisoners this way.
But under these blows Bobo never hollered — and he kept making the perfect speeches to insure martyrdom.
Bobo: “You bastards, I’m not afraid of you. I’m as good as you are. I’ve ‘had’ white women. My grandmother was a white woman.”
Milam: “Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers — in their place — I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you — just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'”
So Big Milam decided to act. He needed a weight. He tried to think of where he could get an anvil. Then he remembered a gin which had installed new equipment. He had seen two men lifting a discarded fan, a metal fan three feet high and circular, used in ginning cotton.
Bobo wasn’t bleeding much. Pistol-whipping bruises more than it cuts. They ordered him back in the truck and headed west again. They passed through Doddsville, went into the Progressive Ginning Company. This gin is 3.4 miles east of Boyle: Boyle is two miles south of Cleveland. The road to this gin turns left off U.S. 61, after you cross the bayou bridge south of Boyle.
Milam: “When we got to that gin, it was daylight, and I was worried for the first time. Somebody might see us and accuse us of stealing the fan.”
Bryant and Big Milam stood aside while Bobo loaded the fan. Weight: 74 pounds. The youth still thought they were bluffing.
They drove back to Glendora, then north toward Swan Lake and crossed the “new bridge” over the Tallahatchie. At the east end of this bridge, they turned right, along a dirt road which parallels the river. After about two miles, they crossed the property of L.W. Boyce, passing near his house.
About 1.5 miles southeast of the Boyce home is a lonely spot where Big Milam has hunted squirrels. The river bank is steep. The truck stopped 30 yards from the water.
Big Milam ordered Bobo to pick up the fan.
He staggered under its weight… carried it to the river bank. They stood silently… just hating one another.
Milam: “Take off your clothes.”
Slowly, Bobo pulled off his shoes, his socks. He stood up, unbuttoned his shirt, dropped his pants, his shorts.
He stood there naked.
It was Sunday morning, a little before 7.
Milam: “You still as good as I am?”
Milam: “You still ‘had’ white women?”
That big .45 jumped in Big Milam’s hand. The youth turned to catch that big, expanding bullet at his right ear. He dropped.
They barb-wired the gin fan to his neck, rolled him into 20 feet of water.
For three hours that morning, there was a fire in Big Milam’s back yard: Bobo’s crepe soled shoes were hard to burn.
Seventy-two hours later — eight miles downstream — boys were fishing. They saw feet sticking out of the water. Bobo.
The majority — by no means all, but the majority — of the white people in Mississippi 1) either approve Big Milam’s action or else 2) they don’t disapprove enough to risk giving their ‘enemies’ the satisfaction of a conviction.” “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,” by William Bradford Huie; Look Magazine