Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Remembering Medgar Evers - d. June 12, 1963

On this date 49 years ago, Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi. He was very active in the Civil Rights movement and was the NAACP Field Officer in Mississippi.

I am an active Life Member of the NAACP and despite rumors to the contrary this group is still very active in the United States. Please take a few minutes to read about Medgar Evers and understand why he was so important to this country and why it is still important that we still be vigilant about matters of injustice that happen every day.


Medgar Evers was a native of Decatur, Mississippi, attending school there until being inducted into the U.S. Army in 1943. Despite fighting for his country at the Battle of Normandy, he soon found that his skin color gave him no freedom when he and five friends were forced away at gunpoint from voting in a local election. Despite his resentment over such treatment, Medgar enrolled at Alcorn State University, majoring in business administration. While at the school, he stayed busy by competing on the school's football and track teams, also competing on the debate team, performing in the school choir and serving as president of the junior class.

Involvement in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a civil rights and pro self-help organization, gave him crucial training in activism. He helped to organize the boycott of service stations that denied blacks use of their restrooms. The boycotters distributed bumper stickers with the slogan "Don't Buy Gas Where You Can't Use the Restroom."

Medgar applied to the then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School in February 1954. When his application was rejected, he became the focus of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school; in December of that year he became the NAACP's first field officer in Mississippi.
After moving to Jackson, he was involved in a boycott campaign against white merchants and was instrumental in eventually desegregating the University of Mississippi when that institution was finally forced to enroll James Meredith in 1962.

In the weeks leading up to his death, Medgar found himself the target of a number of threats. He held public investigations into the murder of Emmett Till, and a local television station granted him time for a short speech, his first in Mississippi, where he outlined the goals of the Jackson movement. Following the speech, threats on his life increased.

On June 12, 1963, he pulled into his driveway after returning from an integration meeting where he had conferred with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP
T-shirts that stated, "Jim Crow Must Go", Megar was struck in the back with a bullet that ricocheted into his home. He staggered 30 feet before collapsing, dying at the local hospital 50 minutes later. He was murdered just hours after President John F. Kennedy's speech on national television in support of civil rights.

Mourned nationally, Medgar was buried on June 19 in Arlington National Cemetery and received full military honors in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 people, the largest funeral at Arlington since John Foster Dulles. The past chairman of the American Veterans Committee, Mickey Levine, said at the services, "No soldier in this field has fought more courageously, more heroically than Medgar Evers."

On June 23 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the White Citizens' Council and Ku Klux Klan, was arrested for Medgar’s murder.

All-white juries twice that year deadlocked on De La Beckwith's guilt, allowing him to escape justice. Matthew Jones and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers paid tribute to Evers in the haunting "Ballad of Medgar Evers."

Evers' legacy has been kept alive in a variety of ways. In 1970, Medgar Evers College was established in Brooklyn, NY as part of the City University of New York. 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 1994, thirty years after the two previous trials had failed to reach a verdict, Beckwith was again brought to trial based on new evidence concerning statements he made to others. During the trial, the body of Evers was exhumed from his grave for autopsy, and found to be in a surprisingly excellent state of preservation as a result of embalming. Beckwith was convicted on February 5, 1994, after living as a free man for three decades after the murder. Beckwith appealed unsuccessfully, and died in prison in January of 2001.

Before his body was reburied, owing to his excellent state of preservation, a new funeral was staged for Evers. This permitted his children, who were toddlers when he was assassinated and had very little memory of him, to have a chance to see him. The 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi tells the story of the 1994 trial, in which a District Attorney's office prosecutor, Robert Delaughter, successfully retried the case, and won.

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