Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers (pictured) was a trailblazer for racial equality in the South — all while displaying a tireless dedication to self-improvement, education, and fair treatment for citizens in his native Mississippi and abroad. On this day 51 years ago, Evers was killed in the driveway of his home by a Ku Klux Klan member who lived free for a time after the senseless murder. NewsOne takes a brief look back in the life of the late, great Medgar Evers.
Born in the small town of Decatur July 2, 1925, Evers was one of five children to his parents, James and Jesse. The family lived on a small farm, while the Father worked in a nearby sawmill. Young Medgar would have to walk 12 miles to school each day, eventually earning his high school diploma. In 1943, Evers was drafted in to the U.S. Army and fought in World War II in the countries of France and Germany. Discharged honorably in 1946, after earning the rank of sergeant, Evers entered in to Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) to study business administration.
Just a year before his graduation from the college in 1952, Evers married Myrlie Beasley (now Myrlie Evers-Williams), and the couple had three children. Evers groomed his leadership skills as a member of the school’s football, debate, and track teams. He also served as a junior class president.
Activism would become Evers’ calling, after working with notable civil rights leader and mentor T.R.M. Howard. Evers worked for Howard’s Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company as a salesman and also served as the president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL). The RCNL staged boycotts in the state against gas stations that denied Black patrons from using their restrooms.
With help from the NAACP and as part of a grander scheme, Evers applied for entry in to the segregated University of Mississippi Law School program in 1954, and his application was denied. This led to Evers landing a post as the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, and he was involved in several investigations regarding hate crimes and instances of racism against African Americans, making him a thorn in the side of the groups of White Supremacists threatened by Evers’ ability to dig up truths and stir action.
Critics of racial equality placed their bull’s eye firmly on Evers, and his family lived under constant death threats and other acts of intimidation.
Just a day prior to Evers’ tragic early morning death, President John F. Kennedy delivered an address focused squarely on the necessity of civil rights. Shortly after parking his car in the driveway of his family’s home, Evers was shot in the back of the head and died in an area hospital under an hour later.
Watch Evers’ story here:
The act was committed by Byron De La Beckwith (pictured below), a White Supremacist and Klansman who was also a member of the now-defunct White Citizens’ Council. De La Beckwith was charged on June 21, 1963, facing all-male White juries that twice resulted in hung juries while trying to determine the outcome. It wasn’t until 1994 that beleaguered prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter went forth in prosecuting De La Beckwith after new evidence was presented.
De La Beckwith was finally charged with the murder on February 5, 1994, and lived as free man for much of his life — save for a three-year stint for conspiring to kill Jewish activist A.I. Botnick.
The nation mourned the death of Evers, and he was given a full military burial just two days before the arrest of De La Beckwith in 1963. Shaken but not electing to stay still, Evers’ widow morphed into an activist herself and served as the chair for the NAACP. Evers’ older brother, Charles, returned to the city of Jackson and took over his younger brother’s duties for a time. In 1969, Medgar Evers College was established in Brooklyn as part of the City University of New York system. Evers-Williams also created the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Insitute in Mississippi, which educates and informs on social change matters.
Although Evers’ bright and shining example was prematurely snuffed out by the racist acts of his enemies, they did not succeed in quieting the change that was to come. Instead, the murder awakened and galvanized African Americans and all people nationwide striving for justice and equality.
Rest In Powerful Peace, Medgar Evers!