Medgar Evers

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Medgar Evers
Medgar Evers.jpg
Born Medgar Wiley Evers
(1925-07-02)July 2, 1925
Decatur, Mississippi, U.S.
Died June 12, 1963(1963-06-12) (aged 37)
Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.
Occupation Civil rights activist
Spouse(s) Myrlie Evers-Williams
1951–1963 (his assassination)
Children Three
Parent(s) James Evers (father);
Jesse Wright (mother)[1]

Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was a black civil rights activist from Mississippi involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi. After returning from overseas military service in World War II and completing his college education, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement. He became a field secretary for the NAACP.

Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens' Council. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.[2][3] His murder and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music, and film. His widow Myrlie Evers became a noted activist in her own right later in life.

Early life[edit]

Evers was born July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi, the third of the five children (including older brother Charlie Evers) of Jesse (Wright) and James Evers. The family also included Jesse's two children from a previous marriage.[4][5] The Evers family owned a small farm and James also worked at a sawmill.[6] Evers walked twelve miles to attend school, and earned his high school diploma.[7] From 1943 to 1945 he fought in the European Theater and the Battle of Normandy with the United States Army during World War II, and was honorably discharged as a sergeant.[8]

In 1948 Evers enrolled at Alcorn College (a historically black college, now Alcorn State University) majoring in business administration.[9] He also competed on the debate, football, and track teams, sang in the choir, and was junior class president.[10] He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1952.[9]

On December 24, 1951, he married classmate Myrlie Beasley.[11] Together they had three children: Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke Evers.[12]

Activism[edit]

The couple moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where Evers became a salesman for T. R. M. Howard's Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company.[13] Howard was also president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL);[14] Evers helped organize the RCNL's boycott of gasoline stations that denied blacks use of the stations' restrooms.[15] Evers and his brother Charles also attended the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1954, which drew crowds of ten thousand or more.[16]

In 1954 Evers applied to the segregated University of Mississippi Law School, but his application was rejected because of his race.[17] He submitted his application in concert with the NAACP as a test case.[18]

In late 1954 Evers was named the NAACP's first field secretary for Mississippi.[6] In this position, he helped organize boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP. He was involved with James Meredith's efforts to enroll in the University of Mississippi in the early 1960s.[18] Evers also helped Dr. Gilbert Mason, Sr., organize the Biloxi Wade-Ins, protests against segregation efforts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast beaches.[19]

Evers’ civil rights leadership and investigative work made him a target of white supremacists. In the weeks leading up to his death, the hostility directed towards him grew. His public investigations into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard had made him a prominent black leader. On May 28, 1963, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home.[20] On June 7, 1963, Evers was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from the Jackson NAACP office.[13]

Rifle used by De La Beckwith to murder Evers.

Assassination[edit]

In the early morning of June 12, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy's nationally televised Civil Rights Address, Evers pulled into his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that read "Jim Crow Must Go", Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle; the bullet ripped through his heart. He staggered 30 feet (9.1 meters) before collapsing. He was taken to the local hospital in Jackson where he was initially refused entry because of his race, until it was explained who he was; he died in the hospital 50 minutes later.[21][full citation needed]

Medgar Evers's house at 2332 Margaret Walker Alexander Drive, where the activist was fatally shot after getting out of his car.[22]

Mourned nationally, Evers was buried on June 19 in Arlington National Cemetery, where he received full military honors before a crowd of more than 3,000.[14]

On June 21, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the White Citizens' Council (and later of the Ku Klux Klan), was arrested for Evers's murder.[23] District Attorney and future governor Bill Waller prosecuted De La Beckwith.[24] Juries composed solely of white men twice that year deadlocked on De La Beckwith's guilt.

In 1994, 30 years after the two previous trials had failed to reach a verdict, De La Beckwith was brought to trial based on new evidence. Bobby DeLaughter was the prosecutor. During the trial, the body of Evers was exhumed from his grave for an autopsy.[3] De La Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994, after having lived as a free man for much of the three decades following the killing (he was imprisoned from 1977 to 1980 for conspiring to murder A. I. Botnick). De La Beckwith appealed unsuccessfully, and died at age 80 in prison in January 2001.

Legacy[edit]

Medgar Evers's grave in Arlington National Cemetery in 2007.

Evers's legacy has been kept alive in a variety of ways. Evers was memorialized by leading Mississippi and national authors, both black and white: Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Margaret Walker and Anne Moody.[25] In 1963, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[26] In 1969, Medgar Evers College was established in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the City University of New York. Evers's widow, Myrlie Evers co-wrote the book For Us, the Living with William Peters in 1967. In 1983, a movie was made based on the book. Celebrating Evers's life and career, it starred Howard Rollins, Jr. and Irene Cara as Medgar and Myrlie Evers, airing on PBS. The film won the Writers Guild of America award for Best Adapted Drama.[27] On June 28, 1992, the city of Jackson, Mississippi, erected a statue in honor of Evers. All of Delta Drive (part of U.S. Highway 49) in Jackson was renamed in Evers's honor. In December 2004, the Jackson City Council changed the name of the city's airport to "Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport" (Jackson-Evers International Airport) in honor of him.[28]

Statue of Evers at the Medgar Evers Boulevard Library in Jackson, Mississippi.

His widow Myrlie Evers became a noted activist in her own right later in life, eventually serving as chair of the NAACP.[29] Medgar's brother Charles Evers returned to Jackson in July 1963 and served briefly in his slain brother's place. He remained involved in Mississippi civil rights activities for many years and resides in Jackson.[30]

On the 40-year anniversary of Evers's assassination, hundreds of civil rights veterans, government officials, and students from across the country gathered around his grave site at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate his life and legacy. Barry Bradford and three students—Sharmistha Dev, Jajah Wu and Debra Siegel, formerly of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois—planned and hosted the commemoration in his honor.[31] Evers was the subject of the students' research project.[32]

In October 2009, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, announced that USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE-13), a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship, would be named in the activist's honor.[33] The ship was christened by Myrlie Evers-Williams on November 12, 2011.[34]

In June 2013, a statue of Evers was erected at his alma mater, Alcorn State University, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his death.[35] Alumni and guests from around the world gathered to recognize his contributions to American society.

Evers was further honored in a tribute at Arlington National Cemetery on the 50th anniversary of his death.[36] Former President Bill Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Senator Roger Wicker and NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous all spoke commemorating Evers.[37][38] Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, who also honored her late husband, spoke on his contributions to the advancement of civil rights:[39]

"Medgar was a man who never wanted adoration, who never wanted to be in the limelight. He was a man who saw a job that needed to be done and he answered the call and the fight for freedom, dignity and justice not just for his people but all people."

In popular culture[edit]

The murder and subsequent trials caused an uproar. Musician Bob Dylan wrote his 1963 song "Only a Pawn in Their Game" about the assassination.[40] Nina Simone wrote and sang "Mississippi Goddam" about the Evers case and Phil Ochs wrote the songs "Another Country" and "Too Many Martyrs" (also titled "The Ballad Of Medgar Evers") in response to the killing, with Matthew Jones and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers also recording the latter song.[40] Eudora Welty's short story "Where Is the Voice Coming From", in which the speaker is the imagined assassin of Medgar Evers, was published in The New Yorker in July 1963.[41]

Evers's story inspired a 1991 episode of the NBC TV series In the Heat of the Night, entitled "Sweet, Sweet Blues", written by author William James Royce. The story tells of a murder of a young black man and the elderly white man, played by actor James Best, who appears to have gotten away with the 40-year-old murder. (The TV episode preceded by several years the state trial in which Beckwith was convicted.) In the Heat of the Night won its first NAACP Image Award for Best Dramatic Series that season.[42]

The 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi, directed by Rob Reiner, tells the story of the 1994 retrial of Beckwith, in which prosecutor DeLaughter of the Hinds County District Attorney's office secured a conviction in state court. Beckwith and DeLaughter were played by James Woods and Alec Baldwin, respectively; Whoopi Goldberg played Myrlie Evers. Evers was portrayed by James Pickens, Jr. The film was based on a book of the same name.[43][44]

Robert DeLaughter wrote a first-person narrative article entitled "Mississippi Justice" published in Reader's Digest, and a book, Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case (2001), based on his experiences.[45]

Wadada Leo Smith's album Ten Freedom Summers contains a track called "Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice of a Thousand Years' Journey for Liberty and Justice".[46]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ per Charles Evers bio "Have no Fear" page 5
  2. ^ Ellis, Kate; Smith, Stephen (2011). "State of Siege: Mississippi Whites and the Civil Rights Movement". American Public Media. Retrieved February 19, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Baden, M. M. (2006): Chapter III: Time of Death and Changes after Death. Part 4: Exhumation. In: Spitz, W. U. & Spitz, D. J. (eds): Spitz and Fisher’s Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (Fourth edition), Charles C. Thomas, pp. 174-83; Springfield, Illinois.
  4. ^ "James Charles Evers", Black Past
  5. ^ "Medgar W. Evers – Civil Rights Activist". mememorial.org. 
  6. ^ a b Williams, Reggie. (2005, July 2). Remembering Medgar. Afro King - American Red Star, p. A.1. Retrieved October 26, 2009, from Black Newspapers.
  7. ^ Sina, “Freedom Hero: Medgar Wiley Evers.” The My Hero Project, 2005. Retrieved October 25, 2009.
  8. ^ Evers-Williams, Myrlie; Marable, Manning (2005). The Autobiography Of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches. Basic Civitas Books. ISBN 0-465-02177-8. 
  9. ^ a b Harvard University W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. "EVERS, MEDGAR (2 JULY 1925 - 12 JUNE 1963), CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST, WAS...". dubois.fas.harvard.edu. 
  10. ^ Padgett, John B., “Medgar Evers”. The Mississippi Writers Page, University of Mississippi. 2008. Retrieved September 2, 2010.
  11. ^ THOMAS United States Library of Congress (June 9, 2003). "Commending Medgar Wiley Evers and his widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams for their lives and accomplishments, designating a Medgar Evers National Week of Remembrance, and for other purposes (Introduced in Senate - IS)". thomas.loc.gov. 
  12. ^ Dustin Cardon; Jackson Free Press (January 21, 2013). "Myrlie Evers-Williams". jacksonfreepress.com. 
  13. ^ a b National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (June 24, 2013). "NAACP HISTORY: MEDGAR EVERS". naacp.org. 
  14. ^ a b Wesleyan University (June 24, 2013). "Medgar Evers: July 2, 1925-June 12, 1963" (PDF). wesleyan.edu. 
  15. ^ Hayden Lee Hinton; AuthorHouse (2010). America Taken Hostage. books.google.com. p. 121. ISBN 978-1438985800. 
  16. ^ David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), pp. 75, 80-81.
  17. ^ Myra Ribeiro (1 October 2001). The Assassination of Medgar Evers. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-8239-3544-4. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  18. ^ a b Nikki L. M. Brown; Barry M. Stentiford (September 30, 2008). The Jim Crow Encyclopedia: Greenwood Milestones in African American History. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 277–78. ISBN 978-0-313-34181-6. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  19. ^ Dorian Randall (June 17, 2013). Medgar Evers: Direct Action. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  20. ^ Hank Johnson (January 21, 2013). "H.Res.1022 - Honoring the life and sacrifice of Medgar Evers and congratulating the United States Navy for naming a supply ship after Medgar Evers.". beta.congress.gov. 
  21. ^ Birnbaum, p. 490.
  22. ^ Medgar Evers home tour Retrieved December 25, 2013
  23. ^ Dufresne, Marcel (October 1991). "Exposing the Secrets of Mississippi Racism". American Journalism Review. 
  24. ^ Jerry Mitchell (The Clarion-Ledger) (June 2, 2013). "Medgar Evers: Assassin's gun forever changed a family". USA Today. 
  25. ^ Minrose Gwin"Mourning Medgar: Justice, Aesthetics, and the Local", Southern Spaces, 2008.
  26. ^ "NAACP Spingarn Medal". Naacp.org. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  27. ^ "For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story". www.allrovi.com. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport". Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2013. 
  29. ^ "NAACP Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams Will Not Seek Re-Election". Jet. 1998-03-02. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  30. ^ "Charles Evers's biography, PBS". Pbs.org. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Medgar Evers", Arlingon Cemetery. Note: Bradford later was notable for his work in helping reopen the Mississippi Burning and Clyde Kennard cases.
  32. ^ Lottie L. Joiner (July 2003), "The nation remembers Medgar Evers", The Crisis, 110(4), 8. Retrieved October 26, 2009, from Research Library Core.
  33. ^ Mabus, Ray, "The Navy Honors a Civil Rights Pioneer." The White House Blog. October 9, 2009. Retrieved September 2, 2010.
  34. ^ "A Memorial for Medgar", San Diego Union-Tribune, November 13, 2011.
  35. ^ Therese Apel (June 12, 2013). "Mississippi marks 50th anniversary of Medgar Evers' death". reuters.com. 
  36. ^ Krissah Thompson (June 5, 2013). "Memorial service for Medgar Evers held at Arlington National Cemetery". washingtonpost.com. 
  37. ^ Ashley Southall (June 5, 2013). "Paying Tribute to a Seeker of Justice, 50 Years After His Assassination". nytimes.com. 
  38. ^ Valerie Bonk; Associated Press (June 5, 2013). "HOLDER PRAISES SLAIN BLACK ACTIVIST MEDGAR EVERS". bigstory.ap.org. 
  39. ^ Associated Press (June 5, 2013). "Medgar Evers honored at Arlington National Cemetery". The Clarion-Ledger. 
  40. ^ a b "NAACP Evers biography". Naacp.org. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  41. ^ Eudora Welty, "Where Is The Voice Coming From?", The New Yorker, July 6, 1963.
  42. ^ "Image Awards". imdb.com. 1992. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  43. ^ Vollers, Maryanne (April 1995). Ghosts of Mississippi: the murder of Medgar Evers, the trials of Byron de la Beckwith, and the haunting of the new South. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-91485-7. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  44. ^ "Biography of Bobby B. DeLaughter". 2002. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  45. ^ Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743223393. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  46. ^ "Ten Freedom Summers". Cuneiform Records. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 

External links[edit]