Emmett Till’s cousin visits OC Feb. 19 Wheeler Parker Jr. is the last living eyewitness to the event that helped start the civil rights movement

Feb 16, 2018

Oklahoma City – The awful lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 helped spark the civil rights movement. Oklahoma Christian University will host the last living eyewitness of Till’s death on Feb. 19 for the fifth annual History Speaks event. Admission is free to hear Wheeler Parker Jr., who is also Till’s cousin. 

Gary Jones, the multicultural and service learning coordinator at OC, organizes History Speaks each year in honor of Black History Month.

“With History Speaks, we’re trying to bring living history to our campus,” said Jones. “Parker’s eyewitness account gives listeners the chance to understand civil rights history in a significant and memorable way.”

Born in Mississippi in 1939, Parker’s family later moved to Chicago for a better education. He returned in the summer of 1955 with his grandfather and 14-year-old cousin. On Aug. 28, Parker and his family were awakened at 1 a.m. to a group of men accusing his cousin of assaulting a white woman. Till was murdered and his killers were acquitted, but his death “changed the world,” according to Time magazine.

Parker returned to Chicago alone and in constant fear for his life.

“That night still causes me to tremble and weep,” Parker said. “I always believed I would see Emmett again. I just wasn’t able to accept that the horrific corpse returned to Chicago was him.”

Today, Parker’s occupations include preacher, peace activist and civil rights activist. He has made it his mission to educate others on the tragic death of Till and call for peace and racial reconciliation.

Past OC History Speaks guests have included Terrence Roberts and Carlotta Walls LaNier of the Little Rock Nine, as well as Claudette Colvin and civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who led the fight against bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. OC also hosted John Carlos and Tommie Smith of the 1968 Olympic protest, and Freedom Ride organizer Diane Nash.

History Speaks begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 in OC’s Hardeman Auditorium. Tickets must be reserved at www.oc.edu/historyspeaks or by calling 405-425-6310. Groups may reserve seats by contacting Gary Jones at gary.jones@oc.edu.