Medgar Wiley Evers: A Civil Rights Icon

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Alcorn State University (ASU) has had many notable alumni graduate from its hallowed grounds during its 150 year history. One such person was one of the faces of the Civil Rights Movement. Medgar Wiley Evers was an American Civil Rights leader who fought for racial equality and voting rights for the black community. Evers became the Field Director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His ideology was impactful for the black community, however, in 1963 he was assassinated in his driveway after attending an NAACP meeting.

Evers was born in Decatur, Mississippi on July 2nd, 1925 to a farming family and was the third of five children. His elder brother Charles Evers, was also a Civil Rights activist. In 1943, Evers enlisted in the United States Army to fight during World War II. Three years later, he received an honorable discharge in 1946. He eventually enrolled in Alcorn A&M, now known as Alcorn State University, and majored in Business Administration. Evers was very active on Alcorn’s campus, joining both the football and track and field teams. He was also elected Junior Class President. While attending Alcorn, Evers met Myrlie Beasley who eventually became his wife while still attending Alcorn in 1951. The couple moved to Mound Bayou and together they had three children, Darrell Kenyatta Evers, Reena Denise Evers, and James Van Evers.

In 1952, Evers graduated from Alcorn and found work as an insurance salesman. He became a member for the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), which sparked his career in political activism. In 1954 he applied to the then segregated University of Mississippi’s law program, to which his application was denied. He helped the NAACP desegregate the university, after the Brown vs Board of Education case which ruled segregation in an educational setting was unconstitutional. Eventually the university enrolled James Meredith in 1962.

Later that year in December, Evers moved his family to Jackson, Mississippi after he had received a position in the NAACP as the first Field Director. With his position, he helped set up boycotts at several white merchants and areas in Mississippi where they still practiced discrimination. Evers was popularly known for his activism, especially with his efforts during the 1955 lynching case of Emmett Till. Though known positively in the black community, Evers had a target placed on his back by white supremacists. In the weeks following his death, he received death threats not only to himself but to his entire family. His home was vandalized, and a Molotov Cocktail was thrown into it. He was even almost stuck down by a vehicle a few days before his assassination. White supremacist and the Ku Klux Klan thought of Evers as an ‘agitator’ thus putting his entire family in harm’s way. Edgars’ wife, Myrlie, was very fearful for her husband and children and trained them in case of a shooting or fire.

On June 12, 1963 around midnight, Evers returned home and pulled into his driveway after a meeting with NAACP lawyers. A few moments later tragedy struck, when a gunshot was fired and hit Evers in the back which went through him and ricocheted into his home. He only reached 30 feet before he fell. Within that very same hour Evers died as a result of his injuries at the age of 37. After his passing, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. After his death, a now widowed Myrlie Evers moved her family to California.

The FBI had found a prime suspect, Byron De La Beckwith, who was a member for both the White Citizen’s Council and the Ku Klux Klan. Though he maintained his innocence and claimed he was set up, Beckwith was acquitted after an all-white jury deadlocked twice in 1964. Without the proper justice for Evers, many tried to keep his legacy alive. According to NAACP.com, “In 1983, a made-for-television movie, For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story starring Howard Rollins, Jr. was aired, celebrating the life and career of Medgar Evers, and on June 28, 1992, he was immortalized in Jackson with a statue.” In 1969, a school in Brooklyn, New York was named after him, Medgar Evers College. 

However, with the efforts of Myrlie Evers’ Medgar Evers did get justice as she found a new judge to take on his case. Beckwith was tried and convicted of the murder after five decades in 1994. Beckwith eventually died in prison in 2001. In that same year their oldest son, Darrell, died of Colon Cancer. In 2004 in honor of him the city of Jackson renamed the airport to the Jackson–Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.

In recognition of Evers’ efforts, Alcorn, his alma mater, erected a bronze statue of him to commemorate the 50th year anniversary of his death. ASU also built four housing complexes named after him called Medgar Wiley Evers Hill Village. In 2017 President Barack Obama designated the Evers’ home as a National Historical Landmark. With the help of his wife and countless others, Evers’ life has been legitimized and lives on in American history.

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