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|James Charles Evers|
September 11, 1922 |
Decatur, Newton County
Civil rights activist
James Charles Evers (born September 11, 1922), the older brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, is a leading civil rights spokesman within the Republican Party in his native Mississippi. In 1969, he became the first African American since the Reconstruction era to have been elected as mayor in a Mississippi city, Fayette in Jefferson County. Thereafter, he ran for governor in 1971 and the United States Senate in 1978, both times as an Independent candidate.
Early life and education
Born in Decatur in Newton County in east central Mississippi, Evers was reared by devoutly Christian parents. He had a younger brother Medgar, with whom he was close. They attended segregated schools, which were typically underfunded in Mississippi.
During World War II, Charles and Medgar Evers both served in the United States Army. Charles fell in love with a Filipino woman while stationed overseas. He could not marry her and bring her home to his native Mississippi because of her "white" skin color. Mississippi had enshrined Jim Crow rules in its constitution of 1890, which prohibited interracial marriages. It also had effectively disfranchised blacks and poor whites by requiring payment of a poll tax and passing a literacy test to register to vote. This status lasted until after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized federal oversight and enforcement of constitutional rights.
Before and after the war, Evers participated in bootlegging operations, prostitution, and numbers in Mississippi and Chicago. He revealed this part of his past in 1971 prior to his campaign for governor. He said he wasn't proud of it, but was proud that he had changed his life, leaving crime behind.
In Mississippi about 1951, brothers Charles and Medgar Evers grew interested in African freedom movements. They were interested in Jomo Kenyatta and the rise of the Kikuyu tribal resistance to colonialism in Kenya, known as the "Mau-Mau" Rebellion as it moved to open violence. Along with his brother, Charles became active in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a civil rights organization that also promoted self-help and business ownership. He drew inspiration from Dr. T. R. M. Howard, the president of the RCNL, who was one of the wealthiest blacks in the state. Between 1952 and 1955, Evers often spoke at the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou on such issues as voting rights.
Around 1956, Evers' entrepreneurial gifts and his civil rights activism landed him in trouble in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He left town and moved to Chicago, Illinois. There, he fell into a life of hustling, running numbers for organized crime, and managing prostitutes.
In 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, member of a KKK chapter, shot his brother Medgar Evers in Mississippi as he arrived home from work. Evers died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Charles Evers was shocked and deeply upset by his brother's death. Over the opposition of more establishment figures in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) such as Roy Wilkins, Charles took over Medgar's post as head of the NAACP in Mississippi.
In 1969, following passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, Charles Evers was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, the first African-American mayor in his state since Reconstruction. Blacks had been closed out of politics since the late 19th century because of extended disfranchisement through violence and intimidation, capped by the 1890 state constitution. Fayette had a majority of black residents. It had no industry, so had attracted few residents who had grown up outside the area. Its white community was known to be hostile toward blacks.
Evers' election as mayor had enormous symbolic significance statewide and national resonance. The NAACP named Evers the 1969 Man of the Year. John Updike mentioned Evers in his popular novel Rabbit Redux. Evers popularized the slogan, "Hands that picked cotton can now pick the mayor."
Evers served many terms as mayor of Fayette. Admired by some, he alienated others with his inflexible stands on various issues. Evers did not like to share or delegate power. Kenneth Middleton, a political rival who finally defeated Evers in a mayoral election, used the slogan: "We've seen what Fayette can do for one man. Now let's see what one man can do for Fayette."
In 1971 Evers ran but was defeated in the gubernatorial general election by Democrat William "Bill" Waller, 601,222 (77 percent) to 172,762 (22.1 percent); Waller had been the original prosecutor of Byron De La Beckwith.
In 1978, Evers ran as an Independent for the US Senate seat vacated by James O. Eastland. He finished in third place behind his opponents, Democrat Maurice Dantin and Republican Thad Cochran. He received 24 percent of the vote—more than likely siphoning off African-American votes that would have otherwise gone to Dantin. Cochran won the election with a plurality of 45 percent of the vote and still holds the seat today. That was a period when white conservative voters were making their shift to supporting Republicans rather than Democrats.
Evers later attracted controversy for his support of judicial nominee Charles W. Pickering, a fellow Republican, who was nominated by President George H. W. Bush for a seat on the US Court of Appeals. Evers criticized the NAACP and other organizations for opposing Pickering despite what he claimed was a record of supporting the civil rights movement in Mississippi.
Evers has befriended a range of people from sharecroppers to presidents. He was an informal adviser to politicians as diverse as Lyndon B. Johnson, George C. Wallace, Ronald W. Reagan and Robert F. Kennedy. On the other hand, Evers has severely criticized black leaders who, he believes, are charlatans or have not "paid the price". Charles Evers has been highly critical of such black community leaders as Roy Wilkins, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and Louis Farrakhan.
He has written two autobiographies or memoirs: Evers (1971), written with Grace Halsell and self-published; and Have No Fear (2009).
- Associated Press (14 Apr 1971). "Evers Isn't Proud of Past History". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
- Charles Evers and Andrew Szanton, Have No Fear, Have No * Beito, David and Linda (2009). Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03420-6.
- Dittmer, John (1994). Local People: the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02102-9..
- Charles M. Payne, I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1945 book).
- The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, PBS 
- 90.1 WMPR,  Jackson Mississippi, Charles Evers station manager : blues, urban contemporary gospel, talk, variety
- Oral History Interview with Charles Evers, from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library