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Key Witness From the Emmett Till Case Dies in Chicago

Emmett Till
Chris Davis

CHICAGO, Ill.–Willie Louis, also known as Willie Reed, a key witness in the Emmett Till case, has died, reported the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. He was 76.

Louis, who moved to Chicago after the 1955 trial of J.W. Milan and Roy Bryant in Sumner, Miss., is now considered by some an unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement because he testified against two white men who beat, tortured and shot to death a young black man in the then-segregated south.

Till was just 14 when he visited relatives in Money, Miss. (north of Greenwood) from Chicago. He is reported to have wolf whistled at a white woman at the grocery store owned by Milam and Bryant, who by their own later admission in a magazine, picked Till up and took him to a barn where the gruesome murder took place.

It was Louis who testified that he heard Till screaming as the men did their deed.

“I heard this screaming, beating, screaming and beating. And I said to myself, ‘Milam and them beating somebody in the barn,’” he later told CBS’s 60 Minutes. “I could hear the beating. I mean, I could hear the licks.”

Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River with a 75 lb. cotton gin fan as a weight. His mutilated body was put in a glass coffin and publicly displayed, with photos published at the insistence of his moth Mamie. Those photos helped spark the Civil Rights movement.

Reed, a native of Greenwood, was praised by many for his courage. Bryant and Milam got off, but later confessed to a magazine for $5,000. Both are now dead but there has been talk for about a decade about reviving the case to prosecute on a federal level any surviving people who may have been involved.

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