Emmett Till’s cousin, Wheeler Parker Jr., speaks just as if it were yesterday, recounting that fateful week in 1955.
On Aug. 24 of that year, 14-year-old Emmett, visiting from Chicago, allegedly whistled at a white woman at a store in Money, Mississippi.
On Aug. 28, he was kidnapped from the home of his great uncle by the woman’s husband and his half-brother. His body was recovered on Aug. 31 from the Tallahatchie River, barbed wire wrapped around his neck, his body weighted down with a cotton gin fan.
“When I heard the men at the door that night, I said, ‘Man, we’re gonna die. They’re gonna kill us because of what happened in that store,’ ” the Rev. Wheeler, now 73, said Thursday, as Till’s family prepared for a weekend of events commemorating the 60th anniversary of his murder.
“It was dark as a thousand midnights, and I just started shaking. In walked this guy with a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. I thought he was going to shoot me, so I closed my eyes,” Wheeler recalled. “But when I opened my eyes, they had gone by my room, to Emmett’s, and took him.”
On Friday, the 60th anniversary of the shocking killing that galvanized the civil rights movement will be memorialized at the South Side church where Till’s historic open-casket funeral was held, and at the cemetery where he was buried on Sept. 6, 1955. His murderers were acquitted, later confessing.
His mother, Mamie Till Mobley — who decided to leave the casket open to show the world the face of racism and who is credited with triggering the battle against the South’s Jim Crow system — lies beside him.
The public is invited to join the Till family, friends and activists, many of whom have converged on Till’s hometown for the weekend, at 11 a.m. at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State. A motorcade processional will make its way to Burr Oak Cemetery, 4400 W. 127th in Alsip for a noon wreath-laying ceremony, with musical performances and tributes by family members and dignitaries.
It will kick off a weekend of events hosted by the Till family and the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation that will include participation by more than a dozen families from across the country whose loved ones have been in national headlines after being killed while unarmed — or dying during an arrest or in police custody.
They are families whose names have fueled the #BlackLivesMatter movement, including Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo; Michael Brown Sr., father of Michael Brown Jr.; Jackie Johnson, mother of Kendrick Johnson; Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis — and the list goes on.
“We’ve been planning this for about a year, and I wanted to do something where we can unite with the contemporary families suffering the same type of tragedy our family suffered 60 years ago,” said Airickca Gordon-Taylor, Till’s cousin and co-founder of the foundation.
“Over the years, we’ve worked with many of those families as part of our foundation’s mission, and with the climate of today, and the murders sparking #BlackLivesMatters, I felt that not only should we celebrate Emmett and Mamie but we should remind people that what happened yesterday is still happening,” Gordan-Taylor said, noting that while a few people drew criminal charges, many controversial police-involved killings have not.
“The Legacy Lives,” a commemorative dinner to be keynoted by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and headlined by Grammy-winning gospel artist Lalah Hathaway, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday night at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, with proceeds to support foundation programming.
Saturday’s free Youth Empowerment Day activities will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at the Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 W. 60th St.
And on Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Michael Pfleger are among scheduled speakers at a free gospel service at 3 p.m. at Roberts Temple Church.
For a complete list of events, go to emmetttill60th.com.