RIP Medgar Evers
On this day in 1963, Medgar Evers was shot and killed in the driveway of his own home in Jackson, Mississippi.
I first learned about Medgar Evers about a year and a half ago through a program called Sojourn to the Past. Sojourn is a 10-day journey through the Deep South that takes high school students to the places where key movement moments occurred. I met veterans of the movement, “ordinary people who did extraordinary things,” and heard first-hand about what the movement meant to them.
Among those who I met was Reena, Medgar’s beautiful and inspiring daughter, who witnessed her father’s assassination right outside her front door. I sat in the driveway where he was killed and thought about the incredible person that Medgar was and the unbelievable injustice that occurred in that spot.
Evers served in the US. Army during World War II and completed his undergraduate education at Alcorn College, a historically black university. He spent most of his life working for justice and equality. He was the first Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP and an instrumental force in the 1962 desegregation of the University of Mississippi. He helped organize successful boycotts to inspire change and publicly investigated civil rights cases such as that of Emmett Till. Evers dedicated his life to creating change and to raising his three children with his wife, Myrlie.
He was on his way home from an NAACP meeting, shortly after hearing President Kennedy’s famous speech calling segregation and discrimination a “moral crisis” and imploring Congress to pass the first Civil Rights Act. After pulling into his driveway, Evers stepped out of his car carrying a stack of NAACP t-shirts. He was shot in the back from across the street and died in the hospital just under an hour later.
Evers’ assassin, Byron De La Beckwith, was a member of the White Citizens’ Council and would later become active in the Ku Klux Klan. He was arrested twice for the murder and released after all-white juries deadlocked on his guilt. Finally, in 1994, De La Beckwith was brought to trial again and convicted of murder. After living freely and without punishment for nearly 30 years, he was imprisoned for the rest of his life.
During Sojourn to the Past, students discuss the sacrifices made by ordinary people who spent the 1950’s and 60’s working for change. Medgar Evers was just one of those ordinary people, and he sacrificed everything in the name of justice, something he saw as a very real possibility in the South and in the rest of the world.
We owe it to Medgar, to his daughter Reena and his sons Darrell and James, to his wife Myrlie, and to the rest of the ordinary people who made extraordinary sacrifices during the movement, to continue this work. We owe it to them and to ourselves to continue making sacrifices for justice and equality.
Read more about Medgar and his family’s journey after his death in Myrlie Evers-Williams’ memoir, Watch Me Fly, or watch Rob Reiner’s Ghosts of Mississippi, a Hollywood adaptation of the final and successful attempt to convict Byron De La Beckwith of murder.
Sarah Ducker is a new member of the Ella’s Voice Editorial Board. She is studying History and Society & Environment at UC Berkeley and hopes to pursue a career in public policy and/or education after graduating.
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