Who is Medgar Evers?

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Civil rights activists Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the former spokesman for the Nation of Islam, Malcom X, are two of the most celebrated martyrs of the civil rights era. However, Medgar Evers who, on June 12th 1963, was killed by an assassin’s bullet outside of his home in Jackson Mississippi, was an extraordinarily courageous man, who also made very significant contributions to the Civil Rights movement.

Medgar Evers was born on July 2nd, 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi. During his teenage years, Medgar eventually dropped out of high school to join the United States Army. He fought with America and its allies to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II before returning to Mississippi in 1945. Three years later, in 1948, Evers enrolled at Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) where he first earned his high school diploma, and later earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1952.

Shortly after college, Evers began his career as an activist with the civil rights organization known as the Regional Council for Negro Leadership (RCNL). The organization led a boycott of companies that refused to hire black workers. In 1954, after building a reputation for being a courageous, outspoken leader, Medgar Evers became Mississippi’s first field agent for the NAACP.  In the 1950’s, Mississippi had a reputation for being the most racially intolerant state in the country. Elected officials, deputy Sheriffs, police officers, and other organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the Citizens Council, all conspired together to preserve segregation in the state, and throughout the south in general. Mississippi politics and its dealing with blacks was so brutal, that when speaking of America’s issues with racism, in a documentary called “Spies of Mississippi”, President Lyndon B. Johnson said “There’s America, there’s the South, and then there’s Mississippi”. But Medgar Evers refused to back down.

As an NAACP field agent, Medgar Evers organized boycotts of businesses where blacks were not welcomed, and facilitated voter registration posts for blacks whose vote in most cases, had been suppressed for years due to intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan and the implementation of literacy test. He also investigated claims of discrimination and incidents of crimes against blacks at the hands of whites when Mississippi’s legal system failed to deliver justice.  Two of Evers’s biggest cases included filing a law suit against The University of Mississippi after it denied admission to black applicants Clyde Kennard and James Meredith, and investigating the disappearance of 14-year-old Emmitt Till, an African-American boy from Chicago Illinois, who was murdered during a summer vacation to Mississippi for allegedly whistling to a white woman –a story we now know is false as the alleged victim, Carolyn Bryant,  recently admitted. Clyde Kennard eventually died in prison after being framed by the FBI in a deliberate move to keep him out of the University of Mississippi. James Meredith, on the other hand, in 1962 became the first African American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, after a federal Judge enforced the 1954 Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas’s prior ruling that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Just one year later, Medgar would be shot and killed as he exited his vehicle in the driveway of his home. He was 37 years old. Two weeks later, Byron De La Beckwith, a professed Klansmen and member of the White Citizens Council, was arrested as the alleged trigger man in Evers’ death.  The all-white juries, appointed by Mississippi’s then district attorney, failed to find De La Beckwith guilty of the murder, allowing him to walk out of the Hinds County court room a free man. In 1993, the Medgar Evers murder case was re-opened, and this time De la Beckwith was tried and found guilty of the assassination of Medgar Evers. Justice had finally been served. According to an article published by the L.A. Times, “Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, wept when the verdict was read and grasped the hand of her daughter, Reena Evers-Everett, while her eldest son, Darrell Kenyatta Evers, applauded”.

Medgar Evers’ contributions to the civil rights movement were tremendous. In 1992, a statue of Evers was built in his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi to honor his legacy. Additionally, Delta Drive, the street where Medgar Evers was assassinated, was renamed Medgar Evers Boulevard. Medgar Evers is survived by his wife Myrlie Evers, and children Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke.

 

-Sokoni Hughes, OTR Admissions Counselor

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