Special to the Arkansas Delta Informer – Reverend Wheeler Parker, Emmett Till’s cousin, best friend, and last living witness to the infamous abduction and murder, will speak during the annual John H. Johnson Day statewide observance in Arkansas City on Nov. 1.
John H. Johnson Day observance is free and open to the public. All events and activities will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in Arkansas City at the John H. Johnson Museum, Arkansas State Parks Trailhead and Desha County historic district and lawn. Parker will speak at 3 p.m.
This year’s events will be held to allow patrons to experience the living museum that captures a glimpse of John H. Johnson’s life and legacy. An Arkansas and Desha County native, Johnson founded Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago in 1942, eventually making it the country’s largest African-American-owned publishing business. Besides Ebony, Jet, and Negro Digest magazines, the company’s properties included a book division and Fashion Fair Cosmetics.
Among his many honors, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the first African American to be named to Forbes Magazine’s list of 400 wealthiest Americans. Friends of John H. Johnson Museum aims to foster positive collaborations honoring, observing and celebrating Johnson’s life and legacy through John H. Johnson Day and through a curated living history museum with collections, exhibits, programming, and engagement for the community and visitors.
This year’s John H. Johnson Day will also help support a future John H. Johnson Welcome Center with features to include master classes, workshops, films, educational and community programming, interactive and permanent exhibits, kitchen and dining space.
The event observance, called “Small But Mighty: How Jet Magazine Chronicled Black History,” will recognize Jet Magazine on its 70th anniversary. The occasion will share stories, including the magazine capturing the horrific torture and brutal mutilation of Till. Till, a Black boy, was murdered in 1955 at 14 years old in the State of Mississippi for whistling at a white woman.
Till’s murder is considered a catalyst for the modern civil rights movement and has been an important cause of Rev. Parker’s for years. At age 16, Parker and his cousin, Till, 14, traveled to Mississippi for a visit with family. On Aug. 28, 1955, Till was taken from the home of his great-uncle Moses Wright, grandfather of Wheeler Parker. The visit was cut short as Parker’s uncles put him on a train back to Chicago- alone.
Till’s body had not been discovered, and Parker did not know what had happened to his cousin. Three days later, Till’s body was found floating in the Tallahatchie River, beaten with a gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His murderers were put on trial, but later acquitted by an all-white jury in Sumner, Miss.
The case was reopened in 2004, reactivated in January 2018 and officially closed again in December 2021 without an indictment. Still today, justice has not been found for Till. For more than thirty years, no one interviewed Parker or asked him what happened that fateful day at Bryant Store in Money, Miss.
Parker is now telling his story in public lectures and media interviews. He has carried his commitment to getting the truth out in his Pastor at Argo Temple, the church that Till’s grandmother helped to build, and in his work with students across the U.S. and in Belize. His soon-to-be-released memoir, “A Few Days Full of Trouble,” published by Random House, is currently available for preorder on Amazon, Target, and Barnes and Noble. It will be released in January 2023.
Established by Friends of John H. Johnson Museum and enacted by legislation during the 92nd Arkansas General Assembly, the memorial holiday honors the life and legacy of Arkansas City’s native son. Besides his most well-known role as publisher of Jet and Ebony, Johnson was also inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame; Illinois Business Hall of Fame; and Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. He served on numerous boards including Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Greyhound, Bell and Howell, Zenith, Continental Bank, Dillard’s Department Stores, Chrysler and other major corporations.
He also became chairman at Supreme Life Insurance Co., where he started his career as an office boy. He served as a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and was on the advisory board of Harvard Business School. For more information, visit www.johnhjohnsonmuseum.org
For more information on John H. Johnson Day, contact Angela Courtney at 870-538-4853.