Medgar Evers, Civil Rights Activist

Medgar Evers, Civil Rights Activist

Civil rights activist Medgar Evers was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. In 1954, he became the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi. As such, he organized voter-registration efforts, demonstrations, and economic boycotts of companies that practiced discrimination. He also worked to investigate crimes perpetrated against blacks. On June 12, 1963, Evers was assassinated outside of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.

Renowned civil rights activist Medgar Evers was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. Growing up in a Mississippi farming family, Evers was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He fought in both France and Germany during World War II, and received an honorable discharge in 1946. In 1948, he entered Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) in Lorman, Mississippi. During his senior year, Evers married a fellow student, Myrlie Beasley. They later had three children: Darrell, Reena and James.

Upon graduation from college in 1952, Evers began working as an insurance salesman. He became involved in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. His work with the RCNL was his first experience as a civil rights organizer. He spearheaded the group’s boycott against gas stations that refused to let blacks use their restrooms. With his older brother, Charles, Evers also worked on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, organizing local affiliates.

Evers applied to the University of Mississippi Law School in February 1954. After being rejected, he volunteered to help NAACP try to integrate the university with a lawsuit. Thurgood Marshall served as his attorney for this legal challenge to racial discrimination. While he failed to gain admission to the law school, Evers managed to raise his profile with the NAACP. In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the famous Brown v. Board of Education case. This decision legally ended segregation of schools, but it took many years for it to be fully implemented.

Later in 1954, Evers became the first field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi. He moved with his family to Jackson, Mississippi. As state field secretary, Evers traveled around Mississippi extensively. He recruited new members for the NAACP and organized voter-registration efforts. Evers also led demonstrations and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination.

While a virtual unknown elsewhere, Evers was one of Mississippi’s most prominent civil rights activists. He fought racial injustices in many forms, including how the state and local legal system handled crimes against African Americans. Evers called for a new investigation to the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who had allegedly been killed for talking to a white woman. He also protested the conviction of his fellow Mississippi civil rights activist Clyde Kennard on theft charges in 1960.

Due to his high-profile position with the NAACP, Evers became a target for those who opposed racial equality and desegregation.

He and his family were subjected to numerous threats and violent actions over the years, including a firebombing of their house in May 1963. At 12:40 a.m. on June 12, 1963, Evers was shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson. He died less than a hour later at a nearby hospital.

Evers was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and the NAACP posthumously awarded him their 1963 Spingarn Medal.

The national outrage over Evers’s murder increased support for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Immediately after Evers’s death, the NAACP appointed his brother, Charles, to his position. Charles Evers went on to become a major political figure in the state; in 1969, he was elected the mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, becoming the first African-American mayor of a racially mixed Southern town since the Reconstruction.

In February 1994, nearly 31 years after Evers’s death, Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died in January 2001 at the age of 80.

In 1995, Myrlie Evers-Williams (she remarried) was elected chairwoman of the board of directors of the NAACP. She is currently a member of the board’s executive committee.
Since his untimely passing,

Medgar Evers’s contributions to the civil rights movement have been honored in many ways. His wife created what is now known as the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute in Jackson, Mississippi, to continue the couple’s commitment to social change. The City University of New York has named one of its campuses after the slain activist. In 2009, the U.S. Navy also bestowed his name on one of their vessels.

QUOTES

“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” – Medgar Evers

“If we don’t like what the Republicans do, we need to get in there and change it.” – Medgar Evers

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