50 Years Later: Remembering Medgar EversBy Lawayne Childrey | Published 12 Jun 2013 06:42am |
Myrlie Evers-Williams and NAACP leaders convene in Jackson to honor Medgar Evers, the NAACP's first field secretary.
Fifty years ago today, Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers was gunned down outside his home in Jackson because of his non-violent efforts to end racial injustice. On this "International Day of Rememberance", many around the state and country alike take a look at his lasting legacy.
In late 1954 Medgar Evers' was named the NAACP's first field secretary for Mississippi. In this position, he helped organize boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP. It was Evers’ civil rights leadership and investigative work that made him a target of white supremacists.
Just after midnight on June 12, 1963, Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson home. Mable Pittman lived next door and vividly remembers the events of that night.
"The shot rang out, each one of my children was in his or her bedroom, but they jumped up and ran into our bedroom," Pittman describes. "We heard Myrlie's screams and the children's screams and they pulled a mattress off of one of the kids' bunk beds and put it in the back of a neighbor's station wagon and I think he died on the way to the hospital."
Evers was shot in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams talks about the night when her husband was killed in his own driveway.
"Rushing to the door, I found this man who was strong enough to endure being shot in the back and his chest being blown away and all I could do was scream because the night before, we had talked about this very thing happening, and I asked what else can I do to help and he said, 'You're doing it all, just take care of my children,'" says Evers-Williams.
Clarion Ledger reporter, Jerry Mitchell has won two George Polk awards and a MacArthur genius grant for his investigative civil rights coverage. He says it was Evers appearance on television where he spoke words like these that helped set the stage for his assassination.
Listen below as Shirley Bailey-Johnson speaks about her childhood working alongside Medgar Evers.
That night through the power of television Evers made several requests including the hiring of African American school crossing guards and African American police to patrol black neighborhoods. Reporter Jerry Mitchell says Jackson city leaders were angered not only by his demands but also that the FCC had allowed Evers, a black man, to address the public on T.V.
"The mayor of Jackson, Allen Thompson had gotten up and basically criticized African-Americans for making these demands and Medgar Evers had responded and his response was real fascinating because you could really sense that he was really trying to reach out to the White community. I think the White supremacists thought, 'Hey, if we kill Medgar Evers, the movement will die,'" says Mitchell.
But the movement didn't die. Mitchell says today's Mississippi represents extraordinary change for a state once known for its lynching's.
"The police force that was once all White, is now mostly African-American, city hall in Jackson, which was built by slaves, is now inhabited by an African-American mayor, you have Mississippi itself, there were very few African-Americans registered to vote back in 1963, they weren't allowed to register to vote or vote at all and now we have more Black elected officials than any other state," says Mitchell.
Mississippi is a different state now . But it took 30 years for a Mississippi jury to convict white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith for Evers' assassination. Evers, widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams recently saw the rifle that killed her husband in an exhibition in downtown Jackson, and said it filled her with anguish. However, she says she has come to realize what her husband’s work has meant to the civil rights struggle.
"I have to keep reminding myself that so many positive things have happened since Medgar's death and because of Medgar's death and he did not believe in hatred of any kind, coming from either side," explains Evers-Williams. "I'm just reminded there's still so much to be done and what a wonderful human being he was knowing full well that his life was going to be taken because he believed in justice and equality and he worked toward that end."
A statue honoring Medgar Evers will be unveiled tomorrow on the campus of Alcorn State University.
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