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Medgar Evers’ Role in Civil Rights Law

Medgar Wiley Evers, civil rights activist, voting rights activist, and organizer, was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. His father was a farmer and his mother a homemaker. He joined the Army when he was 16 and was sent to Europe to fight in France and Germany during WWII. When he returned home, he attended Alcorn State College (now Alcorn University), where he and his brother Charles participated in civil rights activism. He met his future wife, Myrlie Beasley, and married her in 1951, graduating from Alcorn in 1952.

Statue of civil-rights leader Medgar Evers on the campus of Alcorn State University, a historically black university in Lorman, Mississippi. It was dedicated in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the civil-rights leader who led protests of the state’s segregationist laws. [photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.46908]

Although he took a job working as an insurance agent in the all-African American town of Mound Bayou, he continued his activism and his interest in furthering civil rights for African Americans. While working at his insurance job, he became president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL). In that role, he started a civil rights campaign using bumper stickers, “Don’t Buy Gas Where You Can’t Use the Restroom.” He was the first Black person to apply to the University of Mississippi Law School, but was denied admittance because of his race; Evers later worked in the successful bid to get James Meredith admitted there for Meredith’s baccalaureate degree.

As a result of Evers’ activism, the NAACP hired him as the first field secretary in Mississippi. He led investigations into nine racial murders, the lynching of Emmett Till, and the wrongful conviction of Clyde Kennard. He established new NAACP chapters, particularly youth councils, organized voting registration drives, participated in boycotts, investigated and gathered evidence of “racially motivated incidents,” and promoted school desegregation. He was repeatedly sent death threats; he taught his children to crawl on the ground below the windows to shelter in the tub if they sensed anyone outside the house. A firebomb was thrown in their carport in early 1963, and Myrlie Evers put out the fire with a garden hose.

On June 11, 1963, Evers was in Jackson, Mississippi, at a mass meeting with some fellow activists, while his wife and children stayed home listening to the president’s speech on civil rights, asking for Congress to create and pass civil rights legislatioṇ (Vollers, 124). Just after midnight on June 12, as Evers returned home and was walking to his door, he was shot in the back with a shotgun. He was clutching a handful of T-shirts that read, “Jim Crow must go.” His friends took him to the hospital where he died. As a combat veteran of WWII, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery; over 3,000 people attended his funeral.

Evers became more famous in death than in life; his assassination, and the president’s speech, spurred action on civil rights legislation. One year later, fittingly on his birthday, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.

Sources

F349.J13 E93 2005  Evers, Medgar Wiley. The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A hero’s life and legacy revealed through his writings, letters, and speeches / edited and with commentaries by Myrlie Evers-Willams and Manning Marable.

F349.J13 E94 1996 Evers-Williams, Myrlie. For us, the living.

KF224.B34 D45 2001  DeLaughter, Bobby. Never too late: A prosecutor’s story of justice in the Medgar Evers case.

KF224.B34 C65 2009  Coleman, Wim. Racism on trial: From the Medgar Evers murder case to “Ghosts of Mississippi”.

F349.J13 W55 2011 Williams, Michael Vinson. Medgar Evers: Mississippi martyr.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People records, 1842-1999 (bulk 1919-1991).

KF27.R8 1964a United States. Congress. House. Committee on Rules. Civil rights. Hearing before the Committee on Rules, House of Representatives, Eighty-eighth Congress, second session, on H. Res. 789, a resolution providing that H. R. 7152, the Civil rights bill, shall be taken from the Speaker’s table and the Senate amendments agreed to. June 30, 1964.

KF32 .J8 1963b  United States. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary. Civil rights act of 1963; report to accompany H. R. 7152.

KF27.R8 1964  United States. Congress. House. Committee on Rules. Civil rights: hearings before the Committee on Rules, House of Representatives, Eighty-Eighth Congress, second session, on H.R. 7152, to enforce the constitutional right to vote …

F349.J13 V65 1995 Vollers, Maryanne. Ghosts of Mississippi: The murder of Medgar Evers, the trials of Byron de la Beckwith, and the haunting of the new South.

Evers, Myrlie. “He said he wouldn’t mind dying if.” Life, June 28, 1963, 35.

Medgar Evers. FBI History, Famous Cases and Criminals, May 18, 2016. Accessed June 11, 2021.

C-SPAN Cities Tour: Jackson: Medgar Evers Historic Home

The Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument.

 

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