A Shocking Story: William Bradford Huie and the Lynching of Emmett Till

- Metress, Christopher
In October 1955, Alabama author William Bradford Huie traveled to Mississippi to secure confessions from the two men who murdered Emmett Till. In one of the earliest examples of “checkbook journalism,” the Hartselle native paid Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for their story, believing he could extract the true inside account about why and how they killed the young boy from Chicago.

In January 1956, Look magazine published this confession, and for the last sixty-plus years Huie’s magazine article has influenced the way we understand what happened on the night of the lynching. Although many African American journalists challenged Huie’s account when it was published, it was not until the early 2000s that historians and filmmakers began to mount a sustained rebuttal. Although Huie’s version has now been largely discredited, it continues to perpetuate falsehoods that, unfortunately, get repeated today.

Using still images and video clips, this presentation will raise larger questions about how the truth gets told, and who gets to tell it.