About sixty-eight years following the incident, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. is the last living witness to the kidnapping of Emmett Till, and he’s recounting the night that it all went down.
Rev. Wheeler Parker Speaks On The Memory Of Emmett Till: ‘He Was A Fun-Loving Prankster’
In a recent profile by NPR, the 83-year-old spoke on how the ordeal made a major impact on his life, as he noted, “I promised God if he just saved my life, I was going to do right.”
While initially looking back on Emmett, who was Parker’s cousin and best friend, the pastor recalled, “He was a fun-loving prankster.” Additionally, he shared a piece of little-known information regarding how Emmett “stuttered all of the time” on account of a run-in with polio.
“He was a fun-loving prankster, loved to tell jokes, stuttered all of the time. We do not really emphasize his stutter enough.”
Parker also added that, as Emmett “didn’t have any siblings,” they would often spend time fishing and going on trips together.
“We were bonded like that.”
The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. was just 16 years old when his cousin and best friend, Emmett Till, was lynched in 1955.
Today, he is the last living witness of the kidnapping.
— NPR (@NPR) March 12, 2023
The Last Living Witness To The Kidnapping Shares His Story
One such trip involved Parker and Till—then aged 16 and 14, respectively—traveling from Chicago down to Mississippi. While the boys were visiting Parker’s grandfather Down South, the infamous tragedy played out after an interaction with Carolyn Bryant Donham at a store.
Parker specifically recalls Till wolf-whistling at the white woman, which is a popular method of complimenting one’s attractiveness.
However, the situation went horribly wrong.
“He loved to have pranks, so he whistled. He gave her the wolf whistle. When he did that, we could have died. Nobody said, ‘Let’s go.’ We just made a beeline for the car.”
Regarding the wolf-whistling, Parker explained that Emmett was “joking” in an attempt to make his friends laugh. However, once Emmett saw his friends’ reaction, he grew “frightened,” and the pastor recalls being chased down a gravel road while heading off.
“He was joking. He wanted to make us laugh. When he saw that we didn’t laugh and we were scared, he’s frightened now. And we jumped in the car, and we’re going on this gravel road. And there’s a car coming behind us. Dust is flying everywhere. And someone said, ‘They’re after us, they’re after us.’ And of course, we jumped out of the car and into the cotton field, and the car went on by.”
Eventually, though, Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother showed up where the boys were staying, and Parker recalls “getting ready to die” that night.
“I heard them talking at 2:30 in the morning. They said, ‘You got two boys here from Chicago.’ And, of course, when I hear this, I’m thinking — ‘Man, we’re getting ready to die.’ I said, ‘These people finna kill us.’”
He continued with his account, noting that he was “shaking like a leaf” and that the entire ordeal was a “horrible feeling” to go through.
“I’m shaking like a leaf on the tree in the dark of a thousand midnights. It’s so dark, you can’t see your hand before your face. So, when they came in with the gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I closed my eyes to be shot. Horrible feeling. Horrible, horrible feeling.”
The men ultimately took Till, who “had no idea what was about to happen to him.”
“Then they aroused him. And I think they told him to put his shoes on, and he wanted to put his socks on. It was just pure hell over there. Emmett had no idea who he was dealing with. He had no idea what was about to happen to him. He had no way of knowing because he didn’t know that way of life. And he left, and that’s the last time we saw him alive.”
Today is the anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder. I’ve visited his grave several times at the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip IL and every time I hear his story I’m left speechless at the cruelty of his death. pic.twitter.com/Ub1hdcxxdw
— LifeBeyondTV (@LifeBeyondTv) August 29, 2022
Parker Says He Struggles With Survivor’s Guilt
In the aftermath of Emmett Till’s murder, Rev. Wheeler Parker notes that he’s “always had survivor’s guilt.”
He also added that—while Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley—”never asked [him] what happened,” she did ask him to “carry on the work.”
“We have an Emmett Till memorial center. And [Mamie] came and she saw what we were doing. She said, ‘I want you to carry on the work.’ And I remember saying yes, but inside, I said, ‘What can I do, what can I do?’ Not knowing that I’ll be catapulted to where I am now. God put things in place… He going to make sure he put the fire in you to do what you’re supposed to do.”
Parker went on to add, “We’re here now because he still speaks from the grave.”
May Emmett Till continue to Rest in Power.