60 years after Medgar Evers’ murder, his widow continues a civil rights legacy

by Ethan Kim
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Medgar Evers' Legacy

Even at the age of 90, Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks with conviction, fondly reminiscing about her late husband and civil rights luminary, Medgar Evers, as she honors his lifelong pursuit for equal rights and justice for all in the United States.

Sixty years have passed since a white supremacist, under the cover of night, took the life of Evers right outside their family home in Jackson, Mississippi. This tragic event unfolded mere hours after then-President John F. Kennedy delivered a television speech advocating for civil rights legislation.

Evers-Williams, along with the couple’s three young children, were present in the house at the time. Awakened by the piercing sound of a gunshot, she found her husband critically injured in their carport.

“Medgar is still a part of me, he’s always with me,” Evers-Williams said during a warm and humid ceremony held last week, where approximately 200 people gathered to inaugurate the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument, a section of the National Park Service.

This memorial is situated in a neighborhood where families continue to live in humble two- and three-bedroom houses. The Evers house, open to the public by appointment, also features a newly added visitor space nearby with a herb and vegetable garden.

Evers, a World War II veteran who faced the harsh realities of a heavily segregated society upon returning home to Mississippi, began working as the first field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP in 1954. He spearheaded voter registration drives and boycotts advocating racial equality, investigating incidents of violence against Black residents, including lynchings and beatings, at the hands of white segregationists. His wife provided steadfast support, working as his secretary.

Recalling the dreadful night of her husband’s assassination on June 12, 1963, Evers-Williams stated, “I thought my life was over, but I realized it was just beginning because there were three children—Medgar’s children, my children—who were looking up to me.”

In the early 1960s, Mississippi’s white authority prevented most Black people from voting, and public schools remained segregated until 1970. After her husband’s death, Evers-Williams relocated to California with her children in 1964.

In 1976, she remarried Walter Williams, a union activist and longshoreman. “God was very good and sent another man in my life — a man who loved and appreciated Medgar,” she reminisced.

Byron De La Beckwith, the white supremacist who assassinated Evers, was put on trial twice in the 1960s, but the all-white juries failed to reach a verdict. However, with the emergence of new witnesses, prosecutors reopened the case in the early 1990s. In 1994, Beckwith was found guilty of murder by an integrated jury and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died behind bars in 2001.

During last week’s ceremony, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba praised the Evers family’s contributions. Evers-Williams herself served as the national chairperson of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998, earning this role shortly after Williams succumbed to cancer.

Despite the notable increase in Black voter registration in Mississippi over the past six decades, Black individuals have yet to hold statewide offices. Events and seminars were held around Jackson over the past week to honor the Evers family’s legacy, with young attendees learning about human rights activism.

“My hope is that our history is never erased,” said Reena Evers-Everette, the daughter of Evers-Williams, acknowledging the ongoing battle against attempts to restrict how history is taught.

Even at 90, Evers-Williams continues to devote herself to combating racism and prejudice, hoping to contribute towards a more positive change in her native state and beyond. “I hope I will be able to do so until I take my last breath,” she affirmed.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Medgar Evers’ Legacy

Who was Medgar Evers?

Medgar Evers was a prominent civil rights activist and the first field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP, starting in 1954. He advocated for racial equality through voter registration drives and boycotts and investigated violence against Black residents. Evers was assassinated in 1963.

Who is Myrlie Evers-Williams?

Myrlie Evers-Williams is the widow of Medgar Evers. After her husband’s assassination, she continued his civil rights work. She served as the national chairperson of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998.

What happened to the person who assassinated Medgar Evers?

The white supremacist who assassinated Evers, Byron De La Beckwith, was tried twice in the 1960s but all-white juries failed to convict him. The case was reopened in the early 1990s, and Beckwith was found guilty of murder by an integrated jury in 1994. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in prison in 2001.

What is the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument?

The Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument is a section of the National Park Service dedicated to the Evers family. It was inaugurated at a ceremony where Myrlie Evers-Williams spoke about her late husband’s legacy.

Where does Myrlie Evers-Williams live now?

After moving from California to Oregon and back to Mississippi, Myrlie Evers-Williams is currently residing in California again.

What changes in racial equality have occurred in Mississippi since Medgar Evers’ time?

Since the 1960s, there has been a significant increase in Black voter registration in Mississippi. Black individuals have won hundreds of local offices and dozens of legislative seats. However, no statewide offices have been held by a Black person as of yet.

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