BOONEVILLE — Emmett Till’s cousin says people should learn about the black teenager’s brutal death that energized the civil rights movement. But the Rev. Wheeler Parker also says: “Hate is a luxury I can’t afford.”
Parker appeared Tuesday at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville, speaking to 400 students, professors and community members, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.
In the summer of 1955, Parker and Till traveled from Chicago to the Mississippi Delta to visit relatives.
Parker recalled that he heard 14-year-old Till whistle at a white woman working at a grocery store in rural Money, Mississippi. He said he remembers the sound of Till’s whistle and the immediate sense of danger it gave him. He remembers waking up at 2:30 in the morning to the sound of Till’s murderers knocking on the door of their grandparents’ cabin and his grandmother offering them money to leave the family alone.
Till was beaten and shot, and his body was found weighted down with a cotton gin fan in the Tallahatchie River. His mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in Chicago so people could see the mutilated corpse.
An all-white jury in Mississippi acquitted two white men in the killing.
With the memory of one of America’s most infamous hate crimes ingrained in his mind, Parker said he is dedicated to peace.
“This is not a pleasant story. This is not a pretty story, but it is history and we must learn from it,” Parker said. “Hate is a luxury I can’t afford. That’s a terrible thing to carry hate. I don’t hate. I appreciate.”
As he took audience questions, Parker talked about Till’s lasting legacy, the persistent ideology of white supremacy, educating today’s children about race, progress that has been made and hope for the future.
“Rosa Parks was not the first woman to refuse to give up her seat. Emmett Till was not the first black person who was killed,” Parker said. “The wheels of justice grind, but they grind slowly. So differences have been made, but we still have work to do.”