Cousin, childhood friend of Emmett Till to speak at KU’s Spencer Museum of Art

photo by: Submitted

The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr.

The last living witness to the kidnapping of Emmett Till — which led to the murder of the Black teenager and spurred a racial reckoning in 1955 — will speak on the University of Kansas campus this month.

The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., a cousin and childhood friend of Till, will speak at 6 p.m. April 24 at the Spencer Museum of Art on the Lawrence campus.

Parker was 16 and Till was 14 when they traveled from Chicago to Mississippi in 1955 to visit family. Till was kidnapped and later lynched after playfully whistling at a white woman in a Mississippi store.

“Emmett Till’s story is not a pleasant story — it’s not a pretty story, but it has to be told. It must be told because we need to know the truth,” Parker said in a KU press release. “The thing I want families to take away from this is that we can learn from the past on what not to do and we can improve on race relations at this time.”

Parker was with Till at the time of his whistle and kidnapping. He and his wife, Marvel Parker, are part of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute, named after Till and his late mother. The institute played a role in creating a new national exhibit about Till and his mother.

That exhibit, titled “Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See,” also has a strong KU connection. The exhibit currently is on display at the Spencer, and a KU professor served as a historical consultant on the exhibit.

Dave Tell, KU professor of communication studies, helped with the design and content of the exhibition. Tell will moderate a conversation with Parker during the April 24 event.

“There are plenty of museum exhibits about the Till story,” Tell said. “This one is unique because it was created in consultation with the Till family and because it brings the story up to the present day. We don’t just learn what happened in 1955. We also learn how hard it has been to tell the story of what happened in 1955.”

The event is free for the public to attend, but seating is limited and organizers are asking attendees to register for a free ticket to ensure a seat. Tickets can be reserved online at


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