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Emmett Till’s cousin Wheeler Parker tells truth about that fateful ‘whistle’

Photo caption: DAVE TELL, from left, Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., and Theon Hill participate in the“Remembering Emmett Till: A Conversation on Race, Nation and Faith” event at Wheaton College, held on October 25, 2022, in Wheaton, Illinois. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller.

“A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for my Cousin and Best friend, Emmett Till” is a book written by Emmett Till’s cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker, who lives in Summit, Illinois.

He was in the house in August 1955 when 14-year-old Till was kidnapped and later to be found murdered, with a body badly mutilated and disfigured a few days later in the Tallahatchie River near Money, Mississippi.

Parker has taken his decades of pain and writes a book that reveals his account of what happened to his beloved cousin in a state that the late artist Nina Simone referred to as “Mississippi Goddam.”

Earlier this year, Rev. Parker was at Worth Township on South Pulaski Road in Alsip to talk about his book—which is filled with information that only a primary source could know. The most important of which details what happened that day at Bryant’s Grocery Store.

In August 1955, Parker was 16 when he and Emmett boarded a train in Chicago to visit Parker’s grandfather and Emmett’s great uncle, Mose Wright, in Money, Mississippi. During their visit, two white men, Ray Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, abducted Emmett from his bed for allegedly wolf-whistling at Bryant’s wife. The white men tortured, beat and shot the teen on the banks of the Tallahatchie River.

The half-brothers were acquitted by an all-white jury a month later, although Milam and Bryant would eventually admit to murdering Till in a Look magazine article.

Emmett’s death sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Parker, along with co-author, Christopher Benson, offer a new perspective of the death of Emmett and the anguished journey to find justice as told through the eyes of a survivor. Parker offers an emotional and suspenseful page-turner, weaving vivid recall with never-before-seen findings in the investigation. All are positioned against a backdrop of racial reckoning and political pushback.

And the person who was at the center of the allegations against Emmett, Carolyn Bryant Donham, recently died, with New York Times columnist Charles Blow writing a commentary titled “Shed No Tears for Carolyn Bryant Donham.”

Others on Twitter urged folks to take time out to remember Emmett’s family, and not Donham’s upon learning about her death.

The Mississippi Free Press reported: “Carolyn Bryant Donham’s legacy is one of dishonesty and injustice that verifies that Mississippi coddles and protects white supremacy, a lawyer for Emmett Till’s cousin Priscilla Sterling,” said in a statement after news of her death broke on April 27.

The paper quoted Rev. Parker as saying, “Our hearts go out to the family of Carolyn Bryant Donham. As a person of faith for more than 60 years, I recognize that any loss of life is tragic and I don’t have any ill will or animosity toward her. Even though no one now will be held to account for the death of my cousin and best friend, it is up to all of us to be accountable to the challenges we still face in overcoming racial injustice.”

As well, Rev. Parker details in his book about the day in the grocery store and how they had just picked cotton and just wanted to cool out.

Bobo (Emmett) went into the store and Simeon Booker came in after him to kind of be on alert and make sure that Emmett was minding his manners, considering he was in Mississippi and no longer in Chicago.

He says that the two young boys came out of the store, and he was relieved.

“Then Carolyn came to the door. She stepped outside and was looking around at us, like she was curious about all the talking and laughing. Almost like she didn’t want to be left out. Nothing unusual about something like that back in Chicago, or even Argo, I guess. But I was on edge here in the Delta. For some reason, it seemed like something was about to happen, the way everything gets real calm just before a big storm hits. So, I was waiting. And that’s when everything happened. Bobo whistled. That wolf whistle that we all heard.”

Wheeler said that Emmett was always a prankster but didn’t realize his actions could have him killed—which they did.

Afterward Donham started moving toward her car; the group thought she was going for a gun, and they sped away in their old jalopy of a car.

News accounts have continually said that Donham said Emmett whistled at her in the store. But here is Parker sharing his firsthand experiences.

And the rest is our nation’s sordid, racist history.

Rev. Parker, who is the pastor of Argo Temple Church of God In Christ in Summit, Illinois, covers a variety of issues in his book, including what he calls the media’s insistence on storytelling that “tends to value white over Black, even if only subconsciously in the way the stories are framed. Until recently, there has been an assumption that the white person, whether a cop or civilian, is telling the truth and the Black person, whether a victim or suspect is not telling the truth.”

He examines the circumstances around Emmett’s slaughter, as well as legislation, the search for social justice, and the temperature of a country that is steeped in racist history, as well as pivotal movements—from the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter.

For an enlightened and historical read about one of the most blatant acts of misjustice in this country’s history, grab a copy of “A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for my Cousin and Best friend, Emmett Till.”

The book is co-written by Parker and Christopher Benson, Northwestern University professor and Emmy award-winning lawyer, and is available at outlets everywhere. Visit Penquin Books at for more information.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago ( or email: [email protected].

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