More than six decades since the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the African-American teenager whose 1955 lynching helped spark the civil rights movement, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., a cousin who is the last living witness to his abduction, still struggles with the horrific memory.
“Sometimes I think about Emmett and it feels like a nightmare that didn’t really happen,” Parker said. “I could hate the people who did this to him, but I come from a religious family and we were taught not to hate. Hate destroys the hater.”
Parker discussed the killing that took place in Mississippi when Till was visiting family 65 years ago during an event Thursday at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. He reflected on his cousin’s personality and upbringing in Chicago, and the inaccuracies of what Parker said has become one of the most embellished stories in American history.
The two were together when Till whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, at her family’s grocery store. Four days later, Parker said he witnessed Till’s abduction at gunpoint at his great-uncle’s home. Fearing for his life, Parker immediately returned to Chicago, and soon after Till’s tortured body was found in the Tallahatchie River. Bryant’s husband and half-brother were acquitted of murder by an all-white jury but later admitted their guilt.
“Till did whistle,” he said. “Some people don’t want to think that he did, but he did and when it happened, we could have all fainted. He was so afraid and knew he messed up. He was fun-loving and carefree, but that didn’t fly in the South and this was a very different time.”
Parker remembers that on the night of Till’s abduction he felt that death was near.
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