The life of Medgar Evers was cut far too short 50 years ago, when the civil rights activist and war veteran was assassinated at just 37-years-old by a White supremacist. Although Evers would not live to see the Civil Rights Movement blossom, he helped plant early seeds of change in the Deep South that eventually took hold. NewsOne celebrates the life of Evers on what would have been his 88th birthday.
Born in the small town of Decatur, Miss., on July 2, 1925, Evers was one of five children to his parents, James and Jesse.
(Republican Civil Rights activist James Charles “Charlie” Evers is his older brother.)
The family lived on a small farm, while James 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 into 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 into Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) to study business administration.
During his senior year, Evers would marry fellow student Myrlie Beasley (now Evers-Williams) and the couple went on to have three children, Darrell, Reena, and James. Evers graduated from Alcorn College in 1952. The young couple moved to Mound Bayou in Mississippi, and Evers worked for notable civil rights activist T.R.M. Howard as an insurance salesman. Evers 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.
Evers’ involvement with the RCNL planted the early seeds of activism as he joined the fight for civil rights as part of a plot by the NAACP to expose racism in its higher learning institutions. Evers applied for entry in to the segregated University of Mississippi Law School program in 1954. His application was denied. As a result, Evers became the first Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, and he was involved in several investigations regarding hate crimes and instances of racism against African-Americans. White supremacists were angered at Evers and his ability to dig up the truth on the racist practices of the hate groups.
Evers and his family lived under constant death threats and other acts of intimidation. Unfortunately, Evers’ determination came at a heavy price.
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 on June 12, 1963 and died in an area hospital less than an hour later.
The murder was committed by Byron De La Beckwith, 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, De La Beckwith was spared by two hung juries. 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 Feb. 5, 1994, but he lived as free man for much of his life
(Although he did serve 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 became an activist herself and served as the chair for the NAACP. Evers’ brother, Charlie, 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 Institute in Mississippi, which educates and informs on social change matters.
Evers was one of the Civil Rights Movement’s brightest young minds, and while he did not get to complete his mission, those early efforts were not for naught. A great debt is owed to Medgar Evers and his family for their ultimate sacrifice, and thankfully the legacy of what he forged over 50 years ago still lives strong today.
Happy Birthday and Rest In Powerful Peace, Medgar Evers!