Civil Rights Speakers Discuss Emmett Till Case and Southern Racism

Wheeler Parker, the cousin of Emmett Till, will speak Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. in Smith Auditorium at Willamette University. Footage from a 2004 "60 Minutes" program will provide background on the Till murder case. Wheeler will be accompanied by Olympia Vernon, who will read from her widely praised novel, "A Killing in This Town." The event is free to the public.

In August 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was accused of "whistling at a white woman" by Carolyn Bryant. Her husband, Roy Bryant, and J.W. Milam took Till to a barn, severely beat him and shot him through the head. A cotton gin fan was tied around his neck and he was thrown into the Tallahatchie River in Money, Miss. The boy was identified by a ring he wore that belonged to his father.

Till's cousin, Wheeler Parker, Jr., was in the house the night Milam and Bryant came for the boy. He will describe the events of that night and share intimate details about Till's childhood and the atmosphere in Money, Miss. at that time.

Olympia Vernon, the new Hallie Brown Ford Chair at Willamette University, will read from her third novel, "A Killing in This Town," which features Adam Pickens, a young white boy in Bullock, Miss., who must, upon his 13th birthday, lynch a black man in order to be initiated into the Ku Klux Klan. Kirkus Reviews wrote, "This is a powerful, difficult work by a writer absolutely determined to see," and Publishers Weekly wrote that the "fugue of folk idiom, blues, biblical diction and surreal imagery makes for lots of atmosphere." All three of Vernon's novels have been praised by The New York Times Book Review.

Vernon is a graduate of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and won the 2004 Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for her first novel, "Eden." Both "Eden" and her second novel, "Logic," were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2005 Vernon received the Louisiana Governor's Award for Professional Artist of the Year.

For more information contact Olympia Vernon at or 503-370-6290.