Medgar Evers

Image:Evers mug.jpg

Medgar Evers (July 2, 1925 June 12, 1963) was an African American civil rights activist from Mississippi.

Evers was a native of Decatur, Mississippi, attending school there until being inducted into the U.S. Army in 1943. Despite fighting for his country as part of the Battle of Normandy, Evers soon found that his skin color gave him no freedom when he and five friends were forced away at gunpoint from voting in a local election.

Despite his resentment over such treatment, Evers enrolled at Alcorn State University, majoring in business administration. While at the school, Evers stayed busy by competing on the school's football and track teams, also competing on the debate team, performing in the school choir and serving as president of the junior class.

He married classmate Myrlie Beasley on December 24, 1951 and completed work on his degree the following year. The couple moved to Mound Bayou, MS, where T.R.M. Howard had hired him to sell insurance for his Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Howard was also the president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a civil rights and pro self-help organization. Involvement in the RCNL gave Evers crucial training in activism. He helped to organize the RCNL's boycott of service stations that denied blacks use of their restrooms. The boycotters distributed bumper stickers with the slogan "Don't Buy Gas Where You Can't Use the Restroom." Along with his brother, Charles Evers, he also attended the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1954 which drew crowds of ten thousand or more.

Evers applied to the then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School in February 1954. When his application was rejected, Evers became the focus of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school, a case aided by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education 347 US 483 that segregation was unconstitutional. In December of that year, Evers become the NAACP's first field officer in Mississippi.

After moving to Jackson, he was involved in a boycott campaign against white merchants and was instrumental in eventually desegregating the University of Mississippi when that institution was finally forced to enroll James Meredith in 1962.

In the weeks leading up to his death, Evers found himself the target of a number of threats. On May 28, 1963, a molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home, and five days before his death, he was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from the Jackson NAACP office.

At approximately 12:40 a.m. on June 12, 1963, Evers pulled into his driveway after returning from an integration meeting where he had conferred with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that stated, "Jim Crow Must Go", Evers was struck in the back with a bullet that richocheted into his home. He staggered 30 feet before collapsing, dying at the local hospital 50 minutes later.

Below is the picture of the house in which Evers was shot.

 

Mourned nationally, Evers was buried on June 19 in Arlington National Cemetery and received full military honors in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 people. The past chairman of the American Veterans Committee, Mickey Levine, said at the services, "No soldier in this field has fought more courageously, more heroically than Medgar Evers."

On June 23, Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the White Citizens' Council, was arrested for Evers' murder. During the course of his first 1964 trial, De La Beckwith was visited by former Mississippi governor Ross Barnett and onetime Army Major General Edwin A. Walker. All-white juries twice that year were deadlocked on De La Beckwith's guilt, allowing him to escape justice. In response to the event, musician Bob Dylan wrote the song "Only a Pawn in their Game" about Evers and his assassin, and Nina Simone wrote "Mississippi Goddamn". Phil Ochs wrote the songs "Too Many Martyrs" and "Another Country" in response to the killing (Evers is also mentioned in the song "Love Me I'm a Liberal").

Evers' legacy would be kept alive in a variety of ways. In 1970, Medgar Evers College was created in Brooklyn, NY as part of the City University of New York. In 1983, a made-for-television movie, For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story starring Howard Rollins, Jr. was aired, illustrating Evers's life and career. Finally, on June 28, 1992, Evers was immortalized in Jackson with the erection of a statue.

Three decades after the murder, De La Beckwith was again brought to trial based on new evidence concerning statements he made to others. During the trial, the body of Evers was exhumed from his grave for autopsy, and found to be in a surprisingly excellent state of preservation as a result of embalming. De La Beckwith was finally convicted on February 5, 1994, more than three decades after the murder. De La Beckwith appealed the verdict unsuccessfully, and he died in prison in 2001.

The 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi tells the story of the 1994 trial.

Evers's wife, Myrlie, became a noted activist in her own right later in life, eventually serving as chairwoman of the NAACP.