Known today more for his
struggles for civil rights in Mississippi and his untimely death
at the hands of an assassin than for his writings, Medgar Evers
nevertheless left behind an impressive record of achievement.
Medgar Wiley Evers
was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and attended school
there until he was inducted into the army in 1943. After serving
in Normandy, he attended Alcorn College (now Alcorn
State University), majoring in business administration. While
at Alcorn, he was a member of the debate team, the college choir,
and the football and track teams, and he also held several student
offices and was editor of the campus newspaper for two years and
the annual for one year. In recognition of his accomplishments at
Alcorn, he was listed in Whos Who in American Colleges.
At Alcorn he met Myrlie
Beasley, of Vicksburg, and the next year, they were married
on December 24, 1951. He received his B.A. degree the next semester
and they moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, during which time Evers
began to establish local chapters of the NAACP
throughout the Delta and organizing boycotts of gasoline stations
that refused to allow blacks to use their restrooms. He worked in
Mound Bayou as an insurance agent until 1954, the year a Supreme
Court decision ruled school segregation unconstitutional. Despite
the court’s ruling, Evers applied for and was denied admission
to the University of Mississippi
School, but his attempt to integrate the state’s oldest
public university attracted the attention of the NAACP’s national
office, and that same year he was appointed Mississippi’s
first field secretary for the NAACP.
Evers and his wife moved to Jackson,
where they worked together to set up the NAACP office, and he began
investigating violent crimes committed against blacks and sought
ways to prevent them. His boycott of Jackson merchants in the early
1960s attracted national attention, and his efforts to have James
Meredith admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962 brought
much-needed federal help for which he had been soliciting. Meredith
was admitted to Ole Miss, a major step in securing civil rights
in the state, but an ensuing riot on campus left two people dead,
and Evers’ involvement in this and other activities increased
the hatred many people felt toward Evers.
Links & Info
his future wife, Myrlie,
at Alcorn College (now Alcorn State
In 1954, Evers became the first field secretary for
the NAACP in Mississippi.
The name of Medgar Evers has been immortalized in
many ways but perhaps none more so grandly than in Brooklyn’s
Medgar Evers College, a unit
of the City University of New York.
Myrlie Evers’ book about her husband was made
into a TV
movie starring Howard Rollins.
A statue of Medgar Evers was erected to honor him
in his adopted hometown of Jackson
on June 28, 1992.
“It may sound funny, but I love the South. I don’t choose
to live anywhere else. There’s land here, where a man can raise cattle,
and I’m going to do it some day. There are lakes where a man can sink
a hook and fight the bass. There is room here for my children to play
and grow, and become good citizensif the white man will let
Medgar Evers, “Why I Live in Mississippi”
On June 12, 1963, as he was returning
home, Medgar Evers was killed by an assassin’s bullet. Black
and white leaders from around the nation came to Jackson for his
funeral and then gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for his
interment. Following his death, his brother, Charles,
took over Medgar’s position as state field secretary for the
NAACP. The accused killer, a white supremacist named Byron De La
Beckwith, stood trial twice in the 1960s, but in both cases the
all-white juries could not reach a verdict. Finally, in a third
trial in 1994 (and thirty-one years after Evers’ murder),
Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The legacy of Medgar Evers is everywhere
present in the Mississippi of today. This peaceful man, who had
constantly urged that “violence is not the way” but
who paid for his beliefs with his life, was a prominent voice in
the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi. Many tributes have
been paid to Medgar Evers over the years, including a book by his
widow, For Us, the Living, but perhaps the greatest tribute
can be found in changes noted in Mississippi Black History Makers:
“Ten years after Medgar’s death the national office
of the NAACP reported that Mississippi had 145 black elected officials
and that blacks were enrolled in each of the state’s public
and private institutions of higher learning.... In
1970, according to statistics compiled by the Department of Health,
Education, and Welfare, more than one-fourth or 26.4 percent of
black pupils in Mississippi public schools attended integrated schools
with at least a 50 percent white enrollment. When Medgar died in
1963, only 28,000 blacks were registered voters. By 1971, there
were 250,000 and by 1982 over 500,000.”
- “Why I Live in Mississippi.” Ebony (November
1958). Rpt. in Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood
and Youth. Vol. II: Nonfiction. Ed. Dorothy Abbott. Center for
the Study of Southern Culture Series. Jackson: University Press
of Mississippi, 1986. 209-10.
Motion Pictures and Television Programs:
Us the Living: The Story of Medgar Evers. Dir. Michael Schultz.
Screenplay by Ossie Davis. Starring Howard Rollins, Jr., Irene Cara,
Laurence Fishburne, and Paul Winfield. 1983. Television film based
on the book by Myrlie
B. Evers. (This film may be purchased
- A Tribute to Medgar Evers. Broadcast by WBLT-TV, Jackson,
Mississippi, on 28 June 1992. Includes interviews with Evers
friends and colleagues and an overview of his work for the NAACP
- Southern Justice: The Murder of Medgar Evers. New York:
Ambrose Video, 1994. Originally broadcast on HBO as a segment of
“The America Undercover” series. Executive producers:
Paul Hamann, Sheila Nevins; photographer: Bob Perrin; film editor:
Malcolm Daniel; original music: Mark T. White. Narrated by Julian
Bond. The assassination of Medgar Evers is placed within the context
of race relations in Mississippi at mid-century by means of archival
photography, interviews with Myrlie Evers and convicted murderer
Byron de la Beckwith, and reenactments of murder trial scenes.
of Mississippi. Dir. Rob Reiner. Columbia Pictures/Castle-Rock
Entertainment, 1996. Starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James
Woods, and Craig T. Nelson. Based on the book by Maryanne Vollyers.
- Brown, Jennie. Medgar Evers. Los Angeles: Melrose Square
Pub. Co., 1994.
- Evers, Myrlie B., and William Peters. For Us, the Living.
1st ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967; Jackson: University
Press of Mississippi, 1996.
- Jackson, James E. At the funeral of Medgar Evers in Jackson,
Mississippi; A Tribute in Tears and a Thrust for Freedom. New
York: Publisher’s New Press, 1963.
- Massengill, Reed. Portrait of a Racist: The Man Who Killed
Medgar Evers? New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
- Nossiter, Adam. Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar
Evers. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994; Da Capo Press, 2002.
- Salter, John R. Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle
of Struggle and Schism. Foreword by R. Edwin King, Jr. Hicksville,
N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1979.
- Scott, R. W. Glory in Conflict: A Saga of Byron De La Beckwith.
Camden, Arkansas: Camark Press, 1991.
- Remembering Medgar EversFor a New Generation: A Commemoration.
Developed by the Civil Rights Research and Documentation Project,
Afro-American Studies Program, The University of Mississippi. Oxford,
MS: distributed by Heritage Publications in cooperation with the
Mississippi Network for Black History and Heritage, 1988.
- Vollers, Maryanne. Ghosts of Mississippi: The Murder of Medgar
Evers, The Trials of Byron de la Beckwith, and the Haunting of the
New South. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.
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