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See also:
* Writer News:
Myrlie Evers to help dedicate civil rights memorial at Ole Miss Oct. 1
(12 September 2002)

‘Ghosts of Mississippi’ recalls slain civil rights activist
(December 1996)
 
* Book Info:
Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on Becoming the Woman I Had to Be
(January 1999)
For Us, the Living
(February 1996)
 

Home:  >Browse Listings   >Authors   >Evers Williams, Myrlie

Myrlie Evers-Williams


Myrlie Evers-Williams

Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams is perhaps best remembered as the widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP who in 1963 was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson. In the years since the assassination and two hung juries that left the accused gunman, white supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, a free man, Mrs. Evers has continued to wage a lonely war to keep her husband’s memory and dreams alive and to bring his killer to justice. Her diligence eventually paid off when Beckwith was brought to trial for a third time and finally, in 1994, was found guilty of the murder of Medgar Evers, more than 30 years after the crime.

Myrlie Beasley was born March 17, 1933, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1950, she enrolled at Alcorn A&M College, where she met Medgar Evers, an upperclassman and Army veteran. She left school before earning her degree, and they married on Christmas Eve, 1951.

After Medgar was named the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP in 1954, Myrlie became his secretary and together they worked to organize voter registration drives and civil rights demonstrations. As prominent civil rights leaders in Mississippi, the Everses became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home in Jackson was firebombed in reaction to Medgar’s organized boycott of downtown Jackson’s white merchants.

The violence reached its worst point the following year, when Medgar was gunned down by a sniper in front of his home. On the evening of June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy in a televised speech had pleaded for racial harmony and had announced his plan to submit new civil rights legislation to Congress, a plan which infuriated many segregationists. At about 12:30 a.m. on June 12, Medgar had just pulled into the driveway after a long day of work, when a shot from a 30.06 military rifle hit him in the back.

The rifle was recovered about 150 feet from the scene of the shooting, and on its scope were found the fingerprints of its owner, Byron De La Beckwith, a 42-year-old fertilizer salesman and an outspoken opponent of integration. Though he publicly denied any involvement with the shooting, he made it clear that he was glad it had happened.

He was indicted for the murder, but in two separate trials, the all-white juries deadlocked and he was set free. Mrs. Evers and her three children moved to Claremont, California, where she enrolled at Pomona College and began working toward her bachelor’s degree in sociology. In 1967, she co-wrote a book about her husband, For Us, the Living, with William Peters, and she continued to make numerous personal appearances on behalf of the NAACP.

In 1968, she earned her degree from Pomona College, and in 1975 she married Walter Williams. In 1988, she was the first black woman to be named to the five-member Board of Public Works by Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, where she helped oversee a budget of nearly $1 billion.

She also kept up pressure to retry the case of her first husband’s assassin, and in the early 1990s, she convinced prosecutors in Mississippi to reopen the case. Aiding the prosecution were new witnesses willing to testify against Beckwith and Myrlie’s own copy of the original trial transcript, since the official one supposedly on record had been removed some time earlier by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a secret organization that from 1956 to 1973 had been charged with maintaining the racial status quo. On February 4, 1994, Beckwith was found guilty by a jury consisting of eight African Americans and four whites. The 73-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001.

In 1995, the same year her second husband died of prostate cancer, Myrlie Evers-Williams became the first woman to chair the NAACP, a position she held until 1998. In 1999, she published her memoirs, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, which charts her journey from being the wife of an activist to becoming a community leader in her own right.

John B. Padgett

(Article first posted September 2002)

Related Links & Info

Medgar Evers

NAACP

CNN.com presented this in-depth profile on Ms. Evers-Williams as part of its Black History Month 2002 features.

 

Myrlie Evers-Williams wrote the foreword to The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, by Steven Kasher, published by Abbeville Press in 1996.

Myrlie Evers-Williams on the PBS's The NewsHour
On April 23, 2002, Myrlie Evers-Williams appeared on the PBS NewsHour program to talk about the role the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger newspaper had in prompting the first successful prosecution of her husband’s 1963 murder.

 

Publications

Nonfiction:
  • (as Mrs. Medgar Evers) For Us, the Living. With William Peters. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1967.
  • Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be. With Melinda Blau. Boston: Little, Brown, 1999.

Media Productions

Motion Pictures:
  • For 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 her book.
  • Ghosts of Mississippi. Dir. Rob Reiner. Columbia Pictures/Castle-Rock Entertainment. Starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods, and Craig T. Nelson. Based on the book by Maryanne Vollyers.
  • 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.

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