Wednesday, June 12, 2013




Medgar Evers (b. 1925) is one of the central and thus most important figures to emerge in the modern Civil rights movement that began directly after WWII in the United States.  A brilliant visionary, shrewd political strategist, and deeply courageous man who had served his country with great honor, distinction, and bravery throughout Europe fighting fascism in the second world war, a 21 year old Medgar returned to the United States as did hundreds of thousands of his fellow African American veteran soldiers in 1945-46 absolutely determined to confront, challenge, and defeat the ruthlessly racist system of Jim Crow segregation that absolutely ruled his home state of Mississippi as well as the entire southern region of the country with an iron fist and the morally bankrupt sanction of the law--and tellingly in most of the rest of the country as well.  Arriving back in his hometown of Jackson, it didn't take long for the ambitious and dynamic Evers to take full advantage of the higher educational opportunities provided by the GI bill that financially enabled an entire generation to attend college.  Medgar immediately enrolled in and successfully completed a B.A. program in business administration at Alcorn State College, a well regarded historically black college where he met and soon married Myrlie  Beasley in 1951.  They had three children and raised a strong family together first in Mound Bayou, Missisippi, and later in Jackson, Miss. while Evers worked as a life insurance salesman for an independently successful black insurance company.  Evers's boss T.R.M. Howard was a prominent civil rights activist in his own right and was local President of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL).  Through its auspices Evers played a major role in organizing the RCNL's boycott of filling stations that denied black people use of the stations' restrooms.  Over the next couple years from 1952-1954 Evers and his brother Charles were very active representatives and organizers of the RCNL's annual conferences which attracted thousands of local black residents.

In 1954 Evers became an even more high profile figure in the burgeoning--and very dangerous--Mississippi civil rights struggle when a highly qualified Evers in a NAACP sponsored legal test case applied to the then completely racially segregated University of Mississippi Law School.  Predictably his application was rejected but Evers's effort  galvanized many other black activists throughout the country who were inspired by Evers's courageous example and emulated his activity in many similar anti-segregation cases in the United States.  In late 1954 the NAACP officially named Evers its first field secretary in Mississippi.  In this leadership capacity Medgar organized many boycotts and established many local chapters of the NAACP.  Medgar was also at the epicenter of the heroic desegregation efforts of James Meredith to successfully enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962 after major violence by enraged white Mississippi students and many local racist thugs who rioted both on and off campus in protest of Meredith's admission were confronted and disarmed by federal troops that President John Kennedy sent to quell the racist violence.

Evers continued as he always had as a dedicated local civil rights leader and organizer in Mississippi who also worked as an investigator in various civil rights cases and incidents around the issues of voter registration (which like in most of the south was still denied to African American citizens), education, and labor rights.  For these and other activities Evers was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan  (KKK) and many other racist organizations throughout the region.  For his important public investigations into the vile racist murder of 14 year old Emmitt Till in 1955 and his outspoken support for Clyde Kennard an innocent and brilliant black man (and also WWII veteran) who after trying vainly to transfer from the University of Chicago following his junior year after returned to his native Mississippi to aid a sick and infirm family relative  and tried to enroll in a prominent and racially segregated all white Mississippi college. After leading an unsuccessful legal and political effort during the late '1950s  to enroll in the school Kennard was framed and falsely imprisoned for burglary because he was seen as a local "troublemaker" for trying to enroll in the school. His case was later thrown out of court years later because of false arrest. 

From this point in 1960 onward Medgar was a marked man by the Klan and others for his leadership and on May 28, 1963a Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown into the carport of his home and a week later on June 7, 1963 Evers was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from his Jackson, Mississippi NAACP office.  Then just five days later only a few minutes past midnight on June 12, 1963 Medgar was assassinated by a well known KKK and white citizens council member and murderer by the name of Byron De La Beckwith.  After being acquited in two all white male deadlocked jury trials in 1964 it would be another 30 years before De La Beckwith was finally convicted and sent to prison where he died at the age of 80 in 2001.  It was the fiercely dedicated persistence and deep commitment by Medgar Evers's extraordinary wife and widow who was and is also a civil rights leader and organizer in her own right (and  was later chairperson of the NAACP during the late 1990s)   who diligently fought for the successful reopening of his husband's case over a three decade period that led to finally bringing Medgar's racist murderer to justice.  At age 80 Mrs. Evers-Williams continues her now 50 year old fight to carry on and implement the tremendous legacy of Medgar's astonishing human and civil right activism on behalf of genuine justice, freedom, and equality today.  

The following collection of original texts, videos, recordings, photographs and other pertinent archival information about Medgar Evers's inspiring life and work follows below.  We offer it all in humble recognition and deep appreciation for what Medgar fought for and achieved during his exceptional life and what now remains for all the rest of us to do both in his personal honor and on behalf of our own collective humanity.  Long Live Medgar Evers!...


Medgar Evers and the Origin of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi
By Dernoral Davis
Mississippi Historical Society

Mississippi became a major theatre of struggle during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century because of its resistance to equal rights for its black citizens. Between 1952 and 1963, Medgar Wiley Evers was one of the state’s most impassioned activist, orator, and visionary for change. He fought for equality and fought against brutality.

Born July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi, Medgar was one of four children born to James and Jesse Evers. His father worked in a sawmill and his mother was a laundress. Evers’s childhood was typical in many ways of black youths who grew up in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression of the 1930s and in the years preceding World War II. As a youth, Evers’s parents showered him with love and affection, taught him family values, and routinely disciplined him when needed. The Evers home emphasized education, religion, and hard work.

Among his siblings, Evers spent the most time with Charles, whom he idolized. As Evers’s older brother, Charles protected him, taught him to fish, swim, hunt, box, wrestle, and generally served as a sounding board for many of Medgar’s early experiences. He attended all-black schools in the dual and segregated public educational system of Newton County. Segregated public education meant long walks to school for the Evers children. The schools had few resources and operated with outdated textbooks, few teachers, large classes, and small classrooms without laboratories and supplies for the study of biology, chemistry, and physics.

Besides his under-funded public education, Evers on occasion saw and witnessed acts of raw violence against blacks. On these occasions, Evers’s parents and older brother could not shield him from the realities of a society built on racial discrimination. At about age 14, Evers observed to his horror the dragging of a black man, Willie Tingle, behind a wagon through the streets of Decatur. Tingle was later shot and hanged. A friend of Evers’s father, Tingle was accused of insulting a white woman.

Evers later recalled that Tingle’s bloody clothes remained in the field for months near the tree where he was hanged. Each day on his way to school Evers had to pass this tableau of violence. He never forgot the image.

A World War II soldier

At the end of his sophomore year of high school and several months before his eighteenth birthday, Evers volunteered and was inducted into the United States Army in 1942. The decision to volunteer was prompted by a desire to see the world and to follow Charles, who had enlisted a year earlier. During his tour of duty in World War II, Evers was assigned to and served with a segregated port battalion, first in Great Britain and later in France. Though typical at the time, racial segregation in the military only served to anger Evers. By the end of the war, Evers was among a generation of black veterans committed to answering W.E.B. Dubois’s clarion call of nearly three decades earlier: “to return [home] fighting” for change.

Upon returning home, the initial “fight” for Evers was to register to vote. For Evers voting was an affirmation of citizenship. Accordingly, in the summer of 1946, along with his brother, Charles, and several other black veterans, Evers registered to vote at the Decatur city hall. But on election day, the veterans were prevented by angry whites from casting their ballots. The experience only deepened Evers’s conviction that the status quo in Mississippi had to change.

A college student

Evers spent the next decade preparing to become part of the vanguard for change in Mississippi. He returned to school to complete his education under the military’s GI Bill, which was passed by Congress in 1944 to provide education to people who had served in the armed forces during World War II.

In 1946, he enrolled at Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Mississippi, where he roomed with his brother Charles. At Alcorn, which had both high school and college courses of study, Evers first completed high school and remained to pursue a college degree with a major in business administration.

While in college, Evers met and courted Myrlie Beasley, an education major from Vicksburg. They were married Christmas Eve 1951. Myrlie remembers her initial impressions of Evers as a well-built, self-assured veteran and athlete. Soon afterward she realized he was a “rebel” at heart. “He was ready,” Myrlie recalls, “to put his beliefs to any test. He [even] saw a much larger world than the one that, for the moment, confined him; but he aspired to be a part of that world.”

During his years at Alcorn, Evers enjoyed reading and worked hard to pass all classes. Participation in extracurricular activities remained Evers’s real passion from his freshman year through his senior year. As a freshman he joined the debate team, the business club, played football, and ran track. As a junior he was elected president of his class and vice president of the student forum. By his senior year he had become editor of the Alcorn Yearbook, the student newspaper, the Alcorn Herald, and was named to Who’s Who Among American College Students.

The decision to attend college afforded Evers critical exposure and experiences that contributed to his development as an emerging activist and eventual leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. A crucial experience occurred during his senior year when each month he drove to Jackson to participate in an interracial seminar jointly sponsored by then all-white Millsaps and all-black Tougaloo colleges. It was at one of the interracial seminars that Evers became aware of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which he subsequently joined.

An insurance agent

After Evers’s graduation, he and Myrlie moved to the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where he began work as an insurance agent for the Magnolia Mutual Insurance Company, selling life and hospitalization policies to blacks in the Mississippi Delta. The insurance company was owned by Dr. T. R. M. Howard, a black physician in Mound Bayou and a political activist. It was largely because of Howard’s influence that Evers, from 1952 to 1954, not only traveled his Delta route selling insurance, but organized new chapters of the NAACP. The NAACP organizing travels convinced Evers that Jim Crow rendered the state a virtual closed society and that mobilizing at the grassroots level was essential for building a movement for social change. Increasingly, too, Evers saw himself in the vanguard to put an end to Mississippi’s infrastructure of segregation. Other people in the still-young Mississippi Civil Rights Movement also began thinking of Evers as a leader.

The leadership prospects for Evers only increased when he volunteered to become the first black applicant to seek admission to the University of Mississippi. University and state officials reacted to Evers’s January 1954 application for admission to the law school in Oxford with alarm and sought to handle the matter with dispatch. His application was rejected on the “technicality” that it failed to include letters of recommendation from two individuals in the county (Bolivar) where he lived at the time.

NAACP state field secretary

The law school application soon catapulted Evers from relative obscurity to broader name recognition and to serious leadership consideration within the emerging state Civil Rights Movement. E.J. Stringer, president of the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, was so impressed with Evers’s leadership potential that he recommended him for the newly created position of state field secretary of the civil rights organization. The National Office of the NAACP voted in favor of Stringer’s recommendation.

In December 1954, Evers’s appointment as state field secretary was officially announced. The new position required that Evers move from Mound Bayou to Jackson and establish an NAACP field office. Evers negotiated with the NAACP National Office for Myrlie to be appointed as the office’s paid secretary. The Medgar Evers family, which now included two children, Darryl Kenyatta and Reena Denise, came to Jackson in January 1955 – the couple in 1960 had another son, James. Once in Jackson a residence for the family was quickly secured followed by the selection of the new NAACP office in the business hub of the local black community on North Farish Street. Evers relocated the field office ten months later to the Masonic Temple on Lynch Street.

When Evers assumed his position as state field secretary, he began an eight-year career in public life that was both demanding and frustrating. The 1950s proved frustrating and anxiety-laden as some white Mississippians responded with massive resistance to the civil rights activities of the NAACP and to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision which declared segregated schools unconstitutional. There was widespread racial violence against blacks and from 1955 to 1960, Evers faced a range of daunting challenges. He investigated nine racial murders and countless numbers of alleged maltreatment cases involving black victims during the period.

And, Evers’s organizing efforts on behalf of the NAACP proved just as demanding. He worked to promote the growth of adult-lead chapters and to encourage involvement of younger activists in local youth councils across the state. The inclusion of youth, Evers believed, was critical to a winning strategy in the crusade against Jim Crow. In several areas of the state – Jackson, Meridian, McComb, and Vicksburg most notably – youth councils emerged and were quite active. Statewide membership in NAACP chapters nearly doubled between 1956 and 1959 from about 8,000 to 15,000 dues-paying activists.

In the 1960s the agitation for civil rights grew more radical and diverse in its protest strategies. The dominant protest strategies became direct action with civil disobedience, such as boycotts against white merchants. Evers had only limited knowledge of these protest strategies but willingly embraced them to advance the struggle.

On the morning of June 12, 1963, around 12:20 a.m., Medgar Evers arrived home from a long meeting at the New Jerusalem Baptist Church located at 2464 Kelley Street. He got out of his car, arms filled with “Jim Crow Must Go” T-shirts, and walked toward the kitchen door when a shot was fired from a high-powered rifle, striking Evers in the back. Myrlie heard the shot, ran outside with the children behind her, and saw Medgar lying face down in the carport. Next-door-neighbor Houston Wells heard the shot and called the police. The police arrived only minutes later and provided an escort as Wells drove Evers to the emergency room of the University of Mississippi Medical Center on North State Street. Evers died shortly after 1:00 a.m. of loss of blood and internal injuries.

In the initial police investigation, a rifle, which was thought to have fired the fatal shot, was discovered in a thicket of honeysuckle approximately 150 feet from Evers’s carport. White leaders publicly expressed shock and regret. Governor Ross Barnett called the shooting a “dastardly act.” On behalf of the city, Mayor Allen Thompson offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest of the shooter and added that he was “dreadfully shocked, humiliated and sick at heart.”

The day after Evers’s death, several demonstrations broke out in the local black community in reaction to the murder. Black ministers and businessmen joined other angry blacks as they surged out into the streets. Jackson police used force to stop the demonstrations.

On June 15, 1963, Evers’s funeral was held at the Masonic Temple, with Charles Jones, Campbell College chaplain, officiating the service. A special permit was obtained from the city in anticipation of a large funeral cortege and march from the site of the services to Collins Funeral Home. The permit prohibited slogans, shouting, and singing during the funeral procession. After the service about 5,000 mourners joined the procession from the Masonic Temple on Lynch Street, east to Pascagoula, then north onto Farish to the funeral home. When the cortege reached the funeral home, approximately 300 young mourners began singing and moving south in mass toward Capitol Street, the main street of the capital city. The police, who had been shadowing the cortege, responded to mourners by using billy clubs and dogs to disperse them. The crowd then began hurling bricks, bottles, and rocks. A potentially deadly incident was averted when several civil rights workers, and John Doar, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, beseeched the mourners to stop, which they soon did.

The loss of Medgar Evers was a serious blow to the civil rights struggle across the state. Gone were his imposing presence, compelling oratory, and committed leadership. In a mere eight years, Evers had advanced the civil rights struggle in Mississippi from a fledgling organization to a formidable agent for change.

Medgar Evers is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Despite the loss of Evers’s leadership, the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement forged ahead. The remaining years of the 1960s saw the emergence of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (1964), Freedom Summer (1964), James Meredith’s March Against Fear (1966), and other protests for racial equality.

On June 22, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council, was arrested and charged with the slaying of Medgar Evers. Beckwith was tried twice for Evers’s murder, first in February and later in April 1964. Both trials (before all-white male jurors) ended in hung juries. Beckwith was not retried for the Evers murder until 30 years later. In a two-week trial, held in February 1994 before a jury of eight blacks and four whites, Beckwith was found guilty of the murder of Evers, for which he received a life sentence. Beckwith served only seven years of his life sentence at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County before dying of a heart attack January 21, 2001.

Dernoral Davis, Ph.D., is chairman of the history and philosophy departments, Jackson State University.

Posted October 2003



Chafe, William. Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Delaughter, Bobby. Never Too Late: A Prosecutor’s Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case. New York: Scribner, 2001.

Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Evers, Charles. Evers. New York: The World Publishing Company, 1971.

Evers, Myrlie (with William Peters). For Us the Living. New York: Doubleday, 1967. Reprint. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

Johnston, Erle. Mississippi’s Defiant Years, 1953-1973. Forest, Mississippi: Lake Haber Publishers, 1990.

Lawson, Steven, and Payne, Charles. Debating the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1968. New York: Rowman, Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998.

McMillen, Neil, ed. Remaking Dixie: The Impact of World War II on the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

Mendelsohn, Jack. The Martyrs: Sixteen Who Gave Their Lives for Racial Justice. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

Mottley, Constance Baker. Equal Justice Under Law. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Numan, Bartley. The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and Politics in the South During the 1950s. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Salter, John. Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism. Malabar, Florida: Robert Krueger Publishing Company, 1987.

Crittendon, Denise. “Medgar Evers Killer Finally Convicted.” Crisis, April 8, 1994.

Evers, Medgar. “Why I Live In Mississippi.” Ebony, September, 1963, 44.

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

Mitchell, Dennis. “Trial for Honor.” Mindscape (Publication of the Mississippi Committee for the Humanities), 1986, 3-5.

Wynn, Linda. “The Dawning of a New Day: The Nashville Sit-Ins, February 13-May 10, 1960.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol 50 (1991), 42-54.


National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). M is for Mississippi and Murder. New York: NAACP, 1955. This NAACP publication was based on the investigations of Medgar Evers, the newly appointed field secretary for the civil rights organization in Mississippi. The pamphlet provided details on three racial murders in 1955. The three victims were George W. Lee of Belzoni, Lamar Smith of Brookhaven, and Emmett Till, a 14-year-old teenager from Chicago who was visiting his grandfather in Money, Mississippi. At least ten other Black men were racial murder victims during the 1950s in Mississippi.

Mississippi Historical Society © 2000–2013. All rights reserved.
 Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement (Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures)
 by Minrose Gwin
 University of Georgia Press, 2013

Medgar Evers’ Murder, 50 Years Later: Widow Myrlie Evers-Williams Remembers "A Man for All Time"


Medgar Evers’ Murder, 50 Years Later: Widow Myrlie Evers-Williams Remembers "A Man for All Time"

Fifty years ago today — June 12th, 1963 — 37-year-old civil rights organizer Medgar Evers was assassinated in the driveway outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi. In the early 1960s, Evers served as the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi, where he worked to end segregation, fought for voter rights, struggled to increase black voter registration, led business boycotts, and brought attention to murders and lynchings. We hear from Edgers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, on how she wants her husband to be remembered "a man for all time, one who  was totally dedicated to freedom for everyone — and was willing to pay a price."


NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show remembering the life of African-American civil rights activist Medgar Evers. In the early 1960s, Evers served as the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi, where he worked to end segregation and fought for voter rights. It was 50 years ago today, June 12th, 1963, when the 37-year-old organizer was assassinated in his driveway.

AMY GOODMAN: I recently caught up with his widow, Myrlie Evers, at an NAACP dinner here in New York and asked her how people should remember her husband, for whom she sought justice for so many years.

MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS: Well, what I would encourage young people to do is to go online and find out as much as they can about him, his contributions, to go, believe it or not, to their libraries and do research, and to say to them that he was a man of all time, one who was totally dedicated to freedom for everyone, and was willing to pay a price. And he knew what that price was going to be, but he was willing to pay it. As he said at one of his last speeches, "I love my wife, and I love my children, and I want to create a better life for them and all women and all children, regardless of race, creed or color." I think that kind of sizes him up. He knew what was going to happen. He didn’t want to die, but he was willing to take the risk.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about where he was coming from that night that he was killed in your driveway.

MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS: Medgar was coming from a mass rally that we had two or three times a week, actually. And there had been a meeting after that session, and he was on his way home. I know how weary he was, because he got out of his car on the driver’s side, which was next to the road where the assassin was waiting, and we had determined quite some time ago that we should always get out on the other side of the car. And that night, he got out on the driver’s side with an armful of T-shirts that said "Jim Crow must go." And that bullet struck him in his back, ricocheted throughout his chest, and he lasted 30 minutes after that. And the doctors said they didn’t know how he did. But he was determined to live. The good thing, his body is not here, but he still lives. And I’m very happy, proud and pleased to have played a part in making that come true.

AMY GOODMAN: Myrlie Evers, 50 years ago today, June 12th, 1963, her husband, the civil rights leader Medgar Evers, 37 years old, was assassinated in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi.

Medgar Evers, Mississippi Martyr
by Michael Vinson Williams
University of Arkansas Press, 2011

Myrlie Evers-Williams On Medgar's Assassination:

The widow of Medgar Evers, Mississippi civil rights activist and former chairperson of the NAACP, Myrlie Evers-Williams talks about both the events leading up to her husband's assassination and the tragic incident itself in interview: 

Myrlie Evers-Williams On Medgar's Accomplishments:

 The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches

Edited by Myrlie Evers-Williams and Manning Marable
Basic Civitas Books  2006

Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers
by Frank X. Walker
University of Georgia Press, 2013

Frank X Walker

Frank X Walker is the author of six poetry collections, including Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers (University of Georgia, forthcoming May 2013); When Winter Come: the Ascension of York (University Press of Kentucky, 2008); Black Box (Old Cove Press, 2005); Buffalo Dance: the Journey of York (University Press of Kentucky, 2003), which won the Lillian Smith Book Award in 2004; and Affrilachia (Old Cove Press, 2000). A 2005 recipient of the Lannan Literary Fellowship in Poetry, Walker is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Kentucky and Director of African American & Africana Studies, and the editor of PLUCK! the new Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture.

Frank X Walker (born June 11, 1961) is an African-American poet from Danville, Kentucky. Walker coined the word "Affrilachia", signifying the importance of the African-American presence in Appalachia: the "new word ... spoke to the union of Appalachian identity and the region's African-American culture and history"

As of 2013, he is the new Poet Laureate of Kentucky.
The following two poems are taken from his critically acclaimed new book of poetry in honor of Medgar Evers entitled Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers (University of Georgia 2013):

One Third of 180 Grams of Lead

Both of them were history, even before one
pulled the trigger, before I rocketed through
the smoking barrel hidden in the honeysuckle
before I tore through a man’s back, shattered

his family, a window, and tore through an inner wall
before I bounced off a refrigerator and a coffeepot
before I landed at my destined point in history
–next to a watermelon. What was cruel was the irony

not the melon, not the man falling in slow motion,
but the man squinting through the crosshairs
reducing the justice system to a small circle, praying
that he not miss, then sending me to deliver a message

as if the woman screaming in the dark
or the children crying at her feet
could ever believe
a bullet was small enough to hate.

After Birth

“Killing that nigger gave me no more inner
discomfort than our wives endure when they
give birth to our children.” 
-Byron de la Beckwith

Like them, a man can conceive
an idea, an event, a moment so clearly
he can name it even before it breathes.
We both can carry a thing around inside
for only so long and no matter how small
it starts out, it can swell and get so heavy
our backs hurt and we can’t find comfort
enough to sleep at night. All we can think
about is the relief that waits, at the end.
When it was finally time, it was painless.
It was the most natural thing I’d ever done.
I just closed my eyes and squeezed
then opened them and there he was,
just laying there still covered with blood,
(laughs) but already trying to crawl.
I must admit, like any proud parent
I was afraid at first, afraid he’d live,
afraid he’d die too soon.
Funny how life ‘n death
is a whole lot of pushing and pulling,
holding and seeking breath;
a whole world turned upside down
until some body screams.

© Frank X Walker, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, University of Georgia Press, forthcoming May 2013

Medgar Evers,  1962

Myrlie Evers:  'Times when the anger builds up'

Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, talks about her emotions fifty years after her husband was assassinated, and about her part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama. (June 11. 2013)

Medgar Evers - Part 1, Civil Rights Heroes, Martin Kent Documentary


Uploaded on Jan 23, 2010: - Watch part 2 of this compelling excerpt from Civil Rights Heroes, a documentary from Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Martin Kent, which originally aired on Discovery Networks. Before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took over, as the voice, conscience and vehicle of the Civil Rights Movement, there was Medgar Evers, whose civil rights activism in Mississippi began with the death of Emmett Till in 1955. Evers was assassinated by a white supremacist in 1963. Black History Month video.

Medgar Evers
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Born:    Medgar Wiley Evers on July 2, 1925
Decatur, Mississippi U.S.
Died:    June 12, 1963 (aged 37)
Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.
Occupation:    Civil rights activist
Spouse:    Myrlie Evers-Williams 1951-1963 (his assassination)
Children:    Three
Parents:   James Evers (father) Jesse Evers (Mother)

Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was an African-American civil rights activist from Mississippi involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi. After returning from overseas military service in World War II and completing his secondary education, he became active in the civil rights movement. He became a field secretary for the NAACP.

Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens' Council. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His murder and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music, and film.

Evers was born July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi, third of the five children (including older brother Charlie Evers) of James and Jesse Evers; the family also included Jesse's two children from a previous marriage. The Everses owned a small farm and James worked at a sawmill. Evers walked twelve miles to school to earn his high-school diploma. From 1943 to 1945 he fought in Europe with the US Army, and was discharged honorably as a sergeant.

In 1948 Evers enrolled at Alcorn College (a historically black college, now Alcorn State University) majoring in business administration. He also competed on the debate, football, and track teams, sang in the choir, and was junior class president.  He earned his BA in 1952.

On December 24, 1951, he married classmate Myrlie Beasley. Together they had three children: Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke. Darrell died in February 2001 of colon cancer.


The couple moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where Evers became a salesman for T. R. M. Howard's Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Howard was also president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL); Evers helped organize the RCNL's boycott of filling stations which denied blacks use of the stations' restrooms. Evers and his brother Charles also attended the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1954, which drew crowds of ten thousand or more.

Evers applied to the then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School in 1954 but his application was rejected. He submitted his application in concert with the NAACP as a test case.

In late 1954 Evers' was named the NAACP's first field secretary for Mississippi.In this position, he helped organize boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP. He was involved with James Meredith's efforts to enroll in the University of Mississippi in the early 1960s.

Evers’ civil rights leadership and investigative work made him a target of white supremacists. In the weeks leading up to his death, the hostility directed towards him grew. His public investigations into the murder of Emmett Till and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard had made him a prominent black leader. On May 28, 1963, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home. On June 7, 1963, Evers was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from the Jackson NAACP office.


In the early morning of June 12, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy's speech on national television in support of civil rights, Evers pulled into his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that read "Jim Crow Must Go," Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle; it ricocheted into his home. He staggered 9 meters (30 feet) before collapsing. He died at a local hospital 50 minutes later.

Mourned nationally, Evers was buried on June 19 in Arlington National Cemetery, where he received full military honors before a crowd of more than 3,000.

On June 21, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the White Citizens' Council (and later of the Ku Klux Klan), was arrested for Evers' murder.

District Attorney and future governor Bill Waller prosecuted De La Beckwith. Juries composed solely of white men twice that year deadlocked on De La Beckwith's guilt.

In 1994, 30 years after the two previous trials had failed to reach a verdict, De La Beckwith was brought to trial based on new evidence. Bobby DeLaughter was the prosecutor. During the trial, the body of Evers was exhumed from his grave for autopsy.  De La Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994, after having lived as a free man for much of the three decades following the killing (he was imprisoned from 1977 to 1980 for conspiring to murder A. I. Botnick). De La Beckwith appealed unsuccessfully, and died at age 80 in prison in January 2001.


Evers's legacy has been kept alive in a variety of ways. Evers was memorialized by leading Mississippi and national authors, both black and white: Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Margaret Walker and Anne Moody.[13] In 1963, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[14] In 1969, Medgar Evers College was established in Brooklyn, New York as part of the City University of New York. Evers's widow, Myrlie Evers co-wrote the book For Us, the Living with William Peters in 1967. In 1983, a movie was made based on the book. Celebrating Evers's life and career, it starred Howard Rollins, Jr. and Irene Cara as Medgar and Myrlie Evers, airing on PBS. The film won the Writers Guild of America award for Best Adapted Drama.[15] On June 28, 1992, the city of Jackson, Mississippi erected a statue in honor of Evers. All of Delta Drive (part of U.S. Highway 49) in Jackson was renamed in Evers' honor. In December 2004, the Jackson City Council changed the name of the city's airport to "Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport" (Jackson-Evers International Airport) in honor of him.[16]

His widow Myrlie Evers became a noted activist in her own right later in life, eventually serving as chair of the NAACP.[ Medgar's brother Charles Evers returned to Jackson in July 1963 and served briefly in his slain brother's place. He remained involved in Mississippi civil rights activities for many years and resides in Jackson.

On the 40-year anniversary of Evers' assassination, hundreds of civil rights veterans, government officials, and students from across the country gathered around his grave site at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate his life and legacy. Barry Bradford and three students—Sharmistha Dev, Jajah Wu and Debra Siegel, formerly of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois—planned and hosted the commemoration in his honor.[19] Evers was the subject of the students' research project.

In October 2009, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, announced that USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE-13), a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship, would be named in the activist's honor.  The ship was christened by Myrlie Evers-Williams on November 12, 2011.

In popular culture

The murder and subsequent trials caused an uproar. Musician Bob Dylan wrote his 1963 song "Only a Pawn in Their Game" about the assassination. Nina Simone wrote and sang "Mississippi Goddam" about the Evers case and Phil Ochs wrote the songs "Another Country" and "Too Many Martyrs" (also titled "The Ballad Of Medgar Evers") in response to the killing, with Matthew Jones and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers also recording the latter song.  Eudora Welty's short story "Where Is the Voice Coming From", in which the speaker is the imagined assassin of Medgar Evers, was published in The New Yorker in 1963.

Evers' story inspired a 1991 episode of the NBC TV series In the Heat of the Night, entitled "Sweet, Sweet Blues", written by author William James Royce. The story tells of a murder of a young black man and the elderly white man, played by actor James Best, who seems to have gotten away with the 40-year-old murder. (The TV episode preceded by several years the trial that convicted Beckwith.) In the Heat of the Night won its first NAACP Image Award for Best Dramatic Series that season.

The 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi, directed by Rob Reiner, tells the story of the 1994 retrial of Beckwith, in which prosecutor DeLaughter of the US District Attorney's office secured a conviction in federal court. Beckwith and DeLaughter were played by James Woods and Alec Baldwin, respectively; Whoopi Goldberg played Myrlie Evers. Evers was portrayed by James Pickens, Jr.. The film was based on a book of the same name.

Robert DeLaughter wrote a first-person narrative article entitled "Mississippi Justice" published in Reader's Digest, and a book, Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case (2001), based on his experiences.

See also

International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics
List of civil rights leaders

^ per Charles Evers bio "Have no Fear" page 5
^ Ellis, Kate; Smith, Stephen (2011). "State of Siege: Mississippi Whites and the Civil Rights Movement". American Public Media. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
^ a b Baden, M. M. (2006): Chapter III: Time of Death and Changes after Death. Part 4: Exhumation. In: Spitz, W. U. & Spitz, D. J. (eds): Spitz and Fisher’s Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (Fourth edition), Charles C. Thomas, pp. 174-83; Springfield, Illinois.
^ a b Williams, Reggie. (2005, July 2). Remembering Medgar. Afro King - American Red Star, p. A.1. Retrieved October 26, 2009, from Black Newspapers.
^ Sina, “Freedom Hero: Medgar Wiley Evers.” The My Hero Project, 2005. Accessed: 25 Oct 2009.
^ Evers-Williams, Myrlie; Marable, Manning (2005). The Autobiography Of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches. Basic Civitas Books. ISBN 0-465-02177-8.
^ Padgett, John B. “Medgar Evers.” The Mississippi Writers Page, University of Mississippi. 2008. Accessed: 2 September 2010.
^ David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 75, 80-81.
^ Myra Ribeiro (1 October 2001). The Assassination of Medgar Evers. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-8239-3544-4. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
^ a b Nikki L. M. Brown; Barry M. Stentiford (30 September 2008). The Jim Crow Encyclopedia: Greenwood Milestones in African American History. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 277–8. ISBN 978-0-313-34181-6. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
^ Birnbaum, p. 490.
^ Dufresne, Marcel (October 1991). "Exposing the Secrets of Mississippi Racism". American Journalism Review.
^ Minrose Gwin"Mourning Medgar: Justice, Aesthetics, and the Local", Southern Spaces, 2008.
^ "NAACP Spingarn Medal". Retrieved 2013-06-13.
^ "For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story". Retrieved 2011-09-12.
^ "Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport". Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
^ "NAACP Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams Will Not Seek Re-Election". 1998-03-02. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
^ "Charles Evers's biography, PBS". Retrieved 2013-06-13.
^ "Medgar Evers", Arlingon Cemetery. Note: Bradford later was notable for his work in helping reopen the Mississippi Burning and Clyde Kennard cases.
^ Lottie L. Joiner (July 2003), "The nation remembers Medgar Evers", The Crisis, 110(4), 8. Retrieved October 26, 2009, from Research Library Core.
^ Mabus, Ray, "The Navy Honors a Civil Rights Pioneer." The White House Blog. 9 Oct 2009. Accessed: 2 Sep 2010.
^ "A Memorial for Medgar", San Diego Union-Tribune, November 13, 2011.
^ a b "NAACP Evers biography". Retrieved 2013-06-13.
^ "Where Is The Voice Coming From?", The New Yorker July 6, 1963 by Eudora Welty
^ "Image Awards". 1992. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
^ Vollers, Maryanne (April 1995). Ghosts of Mississippi: the murder of Medgar Evers, the trials of Byron de la Beckwith, and the haunting of the new South. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-91485-7. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
^ "Biography of Bobby B. DeLaughter". 2002. Retrieved 2011-09-29.
^ "''Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case'', New York: Simon and Schuster". Retrieved 2013-06-13.
External links[edit]

    Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Medgar Evers
Audio recording of T.R.M. Howard's eulogy at the memorial service for Medgar Evers, June 15, 1963, Jackson, Mississippi.
Myrlie Evers (28 June 1963). 'He said he wouldn't mind dying - if...'. LIFE. pp. 34–47.
Gwin, Minrose. "Mourning Medgar: Justice, Aesthetics, and the Local" March 11, 2008. Southern Spaces
Medgar Evers in the U.S. Federal Census American Civil Rights Pioneers
Medgar Evers biography at
Medgar Evers at the Internet Movie Database
Medgar Evers at Find a Grave Retrieved on February 22, 2010

Myrlie Louise Evers, widow of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, leans down to kiss her late husband's forehead before the casket was opened for public viewing at a funeral home in Jackson, Ms. on June 13, 1963. Medgar Evers, who was the first Mississippi field director of NAACP, 1954-1963, was shot in front of his home early Wednesday. Funeral services will be held on Saturday. With Mrs. Evers is Charles Evers, her brother-in-law. (AP Photo)

President Barack Obama meets with Myrlie Evers at White House
by Carrie Healey 
June 5, 2013


The widow of Medgar Evers, as well as her children and grandchildren, were invited to the White House to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of her husband, Medgar Evers.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Activist was assassinated on June 12, 1963 for working to end segregation.

Senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett called yesterday’s meeting a “deeply poignant moment,” reports White House Correspondent April Ryan.

A World War II veteran, Medgar Evers is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.   Jarrett said President Obama told Myrlie Evers this “demonstrates that he is a warrior of justice.”

According to Ryan, Evers presented Obama with two black and white portrait originals before leaving.  One was a portrait of Rosa Parks and the other was a portrait of Coretta Scott King with Betty Shabazz and Myrlie Evers.

Medgar Evers’ widow:

‘Jim Crow is alive…in a Brooks Brothers suit’
by Morgan Whitaker, @morganwinn


On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights hero Medgar Evers, his widow Myrlie Evers-Williams says segregation has not disappeared.

“Jim Crow is alive, and it’s dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, my friend, instead of a white robe,” she said on PoliticsNation Wednesday.

She talked about the progress she’s seen in the last half-century–and current threats to that progress, like voter suppression.

“Look at some of the racist things that are still happening in America,” she said. “For instance when President Obama was reelected there was rioting at the University of Mississippi because of that. There are still deaths that take place. We look at those things that have happened to keep people from voting.”

“These negatives are not as pronounced as they were in the 50′s and 60′s because we don’t have people in the streets marching today,” she said. “But that’s serious.”

Evers-Williams became a civil rights leader in her own right after Medgar Evers’ death. She fought for decades to see his murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, brought to justice, and became the first Chairwoman of the NAACP.
When asked how she stood by her husband, despite the threats they dealt with as he pursued his activism, she had a simple answer.

“Love. I loved and respected Medgar tremendously,” she said. “He knew who he was. He was a veteran of World War II, he had seen many things happen in his area where he lived in Decatur, Mississippi, and had made a determination that he would do whatever he could to bring America around to the point of keeping its promises, because he had fought for the country and then had to come home and be a second-class citizen.”

“What happened was his determination to do whatever he could, register people, get them to vote, challenge the system of education and so many other things that needed attention. I came along with the job,”  she said. ”And I hate to say it but I must, I wasn’t always there with him.”

Evers-Williams said she always knew retaliation was coming for the work that she and her husband did.

“We reached a point in our marriage where I challenged him about what he was doing and he replied to me, ‘Either you are with me or you aren’t.’ And I told him, ‘I’ll let you know when I make my decision.’”

Although separation was never on the table, she said they had serious conversations about balancing their family life and activist work.

She described also described the night of Medgar’s assassination in detail. Their children were awake, having stayed up at their father’s request to watch President Kennedy’s address to the nation. She expected him home at any minute when she heard the rifle blast.

To this day, the memory brings tears to her eyes. She wept last week at a memorial held at his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. ”There were tears, tears of sadness, wishing that Medgar had survived, but knowing full well that it was our duty and responsibility as well as others’ to carry the movement forward, and I certainly have felt that responsibility,” she said.

“Fifty years later, I might be a little tired,” she added. “I might be a little weary, but I can’t stop, because there’s too much at stake.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013



Fifty years ago today June 11, 1963 marks one of the strangest, most extraordinary and pivotal days in American history in a year--1963--that remains one of the most truly tragic and inspiring in the annals of both the United States and the world. In one of those weird synchronicities of major public events that seemed to characterize the 1960s era four earth shattering incidents occurred in the United States that would have profound, and ultimately even revolutionary national and global implications. These four astonishing incidents all took place within a mere eight hour span on June 11, 1963 and involved the racist assassination of a renowned Civil Rights leader and activist from Mississippi named Medgar Evers by a KKK assassin, a game changing and unprecedented speech to the nation by President John F. Kennedy who announced on television for the first time since he took office in 1961 his firm political and moral support and advocacy of strong national civil rights legislation on behalf of African American ("Negro") citizens, a major press conference announcement by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and legendary black labor leader and organizer A. Philip Randolph as well as other major civil rights leaders and organizers from SNCC, CORE, the NAACP, and the Urban League along with leading figures in the the national labor movement, of plans to organize, sponsor and participate in a massive demonstration in the nation's capitol called 'The March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom ' , scheduled for August 29, 1963; and a national confrontation between the U.S. federal government via its Deputy Attorney General and the notoriously racist segregationist Governor George Wallace who literally stood in the schoolhouse door in a vain attempt to block two black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from physically entering the University of Alabama to register for classes there. In response the President and his brother Robert F. Kennedy the Attorney General of the United States federalized 4,000 Alabama National guardsmen to enforce the constitutional rights of the two black students to enter the school and register and demanded that the Governor step aside which after being granted a brief demagogic speech on his fervent support of "state's rights" (and  thus deeply hostile institutional opposition to racial equality via integration) Wallace finally complied.

Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Democratic Governor George Wallace stands defiantly at the door of the Foster Auditorium while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.


(Originally posted on January 22, 2013):

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Inspiring Courage of James Hood (1942-2013) and the Profound Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

Editor's Note: This article and my response marks the beginning of what will be a year long series of articles, essays, commentary, and critical analyses by myself and others of the profound and ongoing historical impact of the pivotal years of 1963 and 1863 in the history of this nation and that of its African American citizens. 

In this June 9, 1963 file photo University of Alabama students James Hood and Vivian J. Malone  pose in New York

History/Time is really moving and I mean FAST. It's incredible: I remember so clearly this very day--June 11, 1963-- that James Hood and Vivian Malone-- accompanied by the U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicolas Katzenbach and National Guard troops-- walked right past the arch segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace who, along with Alabama state troopers, was literally standing in the front entrance door of the University of Alabama trying to physically block them from entering. I watched this entire dramatic episode on television with my parents in Detroit. I was absolutely fascinated by this event and my visceral response to it left a very sharp and absolutely indelible impression on me as a child. A huge synapse went off in my head not only because of what Hood and Malone and the Kennedy administration did--that was extraordinary enough!--but by what also happened on that very same day. Imagine: Less than 10 hours after this event Medgar Evers the legendary NAACP leader and activist from Mississippi (age 37) was assassinated as he was shot in the back by a KKK assassin just as he was taking out his keys to open the front door of his home just before midnight as his wife and three children watched in horror as they came to the door to greet him. Evers had been at a long meeting of the NAACP that evening discussing the events of that same day which also included a groundbreaking speech by President Kennedy just four hours earlier on national television in which for the very first time his administration made a clear and definitive committment to pushing for and demanding that civil rights legislation be passed--another event I witnessed with my parents on TV that evening. I remember like it was yesterday with my father saying to me in a very serious tone that I "really needed to see and hear what the President had to say" and that it was very important that I "pay close attention." My mother and father were watching the speech with such intense riveted interest that I was again mesmerized by what I saw and heard the president say. In that speech before the entire nation Kennedy said the following:

Finally on this very same day(!!) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legendary black labor union leader A. Phillip Randolph announced that they and a national coalition of civil rights organizations, labor unions, civic groups, activists, clergy, and ordinary citizens were organizing a national event known as the 'March on Washinston for Jobs and Freedom' to be held in the nation's capitol of Washington D.C. in two months on August 28, 1963. WHAT AN AMAZING DAY IN AMERICAN HISTORY.  I rest my case...


James Hood Dead: Man Who Defied Racial Segregation At University Of Alabama Dies At Age 70
Huffington Post

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — One of the first black students who enrolled at the University of Alabama a half century ago in defiance of racial segregation has died. James Hood of Gadsden was 70.

Officials at Adams-Buggs Funeral Home in Gadsden said they are handling arrangements for Hood, who died Thursday.

Then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace made his infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door" in a failed effort to prevent Hood and Vivian Malone from registering for classes at the university in 1963.

Hood and Malone were accompanied by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach when they were confronted by Wallace as they attempted to enter the university's Foster Auditorium to register for classes and pay fees.

Wallace backed down later that day and Hood and Malone registered for classes.

UA President Judy Bonner remembered Hood as a man of "courage and conviction" for being one of the first black students to enroll at the university.

"His connection to the university continued decades later when he returned to UA to earn his doctorate in 1997. He was a valued member of The University of Alabama community, and he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time," Bonner said.

Hood was the last survivor among the major figures in the schoolhouse door incident. Wallace died in 1998, Vivian Malone Jones in 2005 and Katzenbach last year.

After enrolling, Hood remained at UA for a few months and moved to Michigan, where he received a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University and a master's degree from Michigan State.

He later moved to Wisconsin, where he worked at the Madison Area Technical College for 26 years. He retired in 2002 as chairman of public safety services in charge of police and fire training.

He finally returned to UA later in life to earn his doctorate.

Culpepper Clark, author of "The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation's Last Stand at the University of Alabama," called the schoolhouse door incident "an iconic moment" in the Civil Rights Movement because it provided a confrontation between Wallace and the Kennedy administration. He said the incident was "symbolically important" and helped lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Clark described Hood as a man with a lot of "intellectual energy" who understood the importance of what he did at the University of Alabama in 1963.

"He didn't try to make it into more than what it was," Clark said.

The Rev. Preston Nix grew up in Etowah County and said he knew of Hood, who was several years older than he.

Nix said it took a lot of courage for Hood to challenge the segregation at the University of Alabama in 1963.

Nix said he felt Hood did what he did partly to "pave the way" for others to be able to improve themselves and get a higher education and partly because he wanted to attend the University of Alabama.

Samory Pruitt, vice president for community affairs at UA, agreed with Nix.

"Because of what he did, people like me were afforded the opportunity to go to the University of Alabama," said Pruitt, who is black. "I think it's about people having the opportunity to be the best they can be."

Posted by Kofi Natambu at 1:28 PM  on January 22, 2013

Labels: American racism, Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Governor George Wallace, Jr., Jsmes Hood, March on Washington, Medgar Evers, President Kennedy, University of Alabama, Vivian Malone

An epochal moment for civil rights in a single day: 11 June 1963

Fifty years ago, three seminal events – a standoff with Alabama's governor, a presidential speech and the murder of Medgar Evers – left an indelible mark on American history, writes

by Gary Younge
Tuesday 11 June 2013

In the early morning of 11 June 1963, Attorney General Robert Kennedy examined maps of the University of Alabama's Tuscaloosa campus as his three young children played by his feet. Within 18 hours, his brother, the president, had given an impromptu national address on civil rights, the Alabama governor had confronted the federal authorities on national television and blinked, and one of the movement's most prominent leaders had been gunned down outside his home.

In retrospect, the events that summer Tuesday – some planned, most spontaneous, and all more hostage to eventualities than planning – would become emblematic of the trajectory of the nation's racial and political dynamics for the next 50 years.

Bobby Kennedy was trying to work out the federal government's options for getting two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, registered for classes on campus at the university. A few hours later, in a choreographed piece of brinkmanship, Alabama's segregationist governor, George Wallace, stood at the entrance to the Foster auditorium, flanked by state troopers, to refuse them entry. The students went to their dorms while Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach ordered Wallace to allow them in. Wallace refused and delivered a speech on states' rights.

President Kennedy then federalised the Alabama national guard and ordered Wallace's removal. "Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the President of the United States," said General Henry Graham. Wallace made another quick announcement, stepped aside and Malone and Hood registered.

"They knew he would step aside," Cully Clark, author of The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation's Last Stand at the University of Alabama, told NPR. "I think the fundamental question was how."

"It had been little more than a ceremony of futility," wrote journalist and Wallace biographer Marshall Frady:

"And, as a historical moment, a rather pedestrian production. But no other southern governor had managed to strike even that dramatic a pose of defiance and it has never been required of southern popular heroes that they be successful. Indeed, southerners tend to love their heroes more for their losses."

The previous day the president's inner circle was divided as to whether he should deliver a televised national address on civil rights. They decided to wait and see how things went in Alabama. After the incident had passed with more theatre than chaos, they unanimously advised the speech was now unnecessary.

Kennedy decided to ignore them, calling executives at the three television networks himself to request airtime. In The Bystander, Nick Bryant describes how, with only six hours to write the speech, Kennedy's team struggled to pull anything coherent together. Minutes before the cameras rolled, all they had was a bundle of typed pages interspersed with illegible scribbles. His secretary had no time to type up a final version and his speechwriters had not come up with a conclusion. With the cameras on, Kennedy started reading from the text and, for the last four minutes, improvised with lines he'd used before from the campaign trail and elsewhere.

"If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?"

Kennedy went on to reflect on the issues of black unemployment and the slow pace of integration, described how the south was embarrassing the nation in front of its cold war adversaries and announced plans to introduce civil rights legislation. In Bryant's assessment:

"The speech was the most courageous of Kennedy's presidency. After two years of equivocation on the subject of civil rights, Kennedy had finally sought to mobilize that vast body of Americans who had long considered segregation immoral, and who were certainly unprepared to countenance the most extreme forms of discrimination."

A thousand miles away, in Jackson, Mississippi, Myrlie Evers – who, in 2013, would deliver the invocation at President Barack Obama's second inauguration – had watched the presidential address in bed with her three children. Her husband, Medgar, the field secretary of the state's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organisation in the country), arrived home just after midnight from a meeting with activists in a local church, carrying white T-shirts announcing "Jim Crow Must Go".

Lurking in the honeysuckle bushes across the road with a 30.06 bolt-action Winchester hunting rifle was Byron DeLa Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and Klan member from nearby Greenwood. The sound of Evers slamming the car door was followed rapidly by a burst of gunfire. Myrlie ran downstairs while the children assumed the position they had learned to adopt if their house ever came under attack. By the time she reached the front door, Medgar's body was slumped in front of her. A bullet had gone through his back and exited through his chest. A few hours later, he was pronounced dead.

On the day of Medgar Evers' funeral, around 1,000 black youths marched through town, joined later by their elders. When police ordered them to disperse, scuffles broke out. The crowd chanted:

"We want the killer."

Meeting their demand should not have been difficult. The rifle that was fired was traced to Beckwith, whose fingerprints were on its telescopic sight. Some witnesses reported seeing a man who fit his description in the area that night, as well as a car that looked like his white Plymouth Valiant. If that wasn't enough, he'd openly bragged to fellow Klansmen about carrying out the shooting. Though it took several weeks, he was eventually arrested on the strength of this overwhelming evidence, and charged with the murder.

It was then that matters took an all-too predictable turn. Not once, but twice, in the course of 1964, all-white juries twice failed to reach a verdict. Beckwith was arrested again in 1990, and finally found guilty in 1994. He wore a confederate flag pin throughout the hearings. He died in prison in 2001.

Between them, these three events, which all took place within a day, would signal the end of a period of gruesome certainty in America's racial politics – and the beginning of an era of greater complexity. What soon became evident was threefold: the economic stratification within black America, the political realignment of southern politics and the evolution of the struggle of equality from the streets to the legislature.

Wallace's otiose performance and Beckwith's murderous assault typified the segregationists' endgame: a series of dramatic, often violent, acts perpetrated by the local state or its ideological surrogates, with no strategic value beyond symbolizing resistance and inciting a response. They were not intended to stop integration, but to protest its inevitability. And while those protests were futile, they nonetheless retained the ability to provoke, as the disturbances following Evers' funeral testified.

The years to come were sufficiently volatile that even ostensibly minor events, such as a traffic stop in Watts, Los Angeles, or the raid of a late-night drinking den in Detroit, could spark major unrest. The violence and chaos that ensued polarised communities – not on issues of ideology or strategy, but on the basis of race, in a manner that weakened the already dim prospects for solidarity across the colour line.

As Myrlie Evers, who went on to dedicate her life to nonviolent interracial activism, recalled:

"When Medgar was felled by that shot, and I rushed out and saw him lying there and people from the neighbourhood began to gather, there were also some whose colour happened to be white. I don't think I have ever hated as much in my life as I did at that particular moment anyone who had white skin."

In Malone and Hood's registration at the University of Alabama that day, we saw the doors to higher education and, through them, career advancement, reluctantly being opened for the small section of black America that was in a position, at that time, to reap the fruits of integration. There had been a middle class in black America for a long time, but as long as segregation existed, the material benefits deriving from that status were significantly circumscribed, particularly in the south.

Race dominated almost everything. A black doctor or dentist could not live outside particular neighbourhoods, nor eat in certain establishments, nor be served in certain stores. Whatever class differences existed within the black community, and there were many, they were inevitably subsumed under the broader struggle for equality.

With integration, however, came the fracturing of black communities, as those equipped to take advantage of the new opportunities forged ahead, leaving the rest to struggle with the legacy of the past 300 years. Wealthier people could move to the suburbs, their kids could integrate in white schools, and from there go on to top universities.

But this success brought its own challenges. The doors of opportunity were only opened to a few – but enough for some to ask, in the absence of legal barriers, that if some could make it, then why not others. Black Americans no longer fell foul of the law of the land, yet still remained on the wrong side of the law of probabilities: more likely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned; less likely to be employed, promoted and educated.

For most black Americans, the end of segregation did not feel like the liberation that had been promised. After the Watts riots, Martin Luther King told Bayard Rustin, who organised the March on Washington:

"You know Bayard, I worked to get these people the right to eat hamburgers, and now I've got to do something … to help them get the money to buy them."

With Kennedy's appeal for legislation, we saw the shift in focus moving from the streets of Birmingham to Washington's corridors of power. This was progress. Changing the law had been the point of the protests. Within a year, Lyndon B Johnson, who that November assumed the presidency in the wake of Kennedy's assassination, signed the Civil Rights Act; within two years, he'd signed the Voting Rights Act.

But the shift from protesters' demands to congressional bills limited possibilities for radical transformation. Clear moral demands were replaced by horsetrading. Marchers cannot be stopped by a filibuster; legislation can. Rustin's argument ran as follows:

"We were moving from a period of protest to one of political responsibility. That is, instead of marching on the courthouse, or the restaurant or the theatre, we now had to march the ballot box. In protest, there must never be any compromise. In politics, there is always compromise."

The trouble was the nature of the deal-making was itself in flux. By aligning himself with civil rights, Kennedy would end the Democratic party's dominance of the south. The next day, southern Democrats would respond by defeating a routine funding bill. "[Civil rights] is overwhelming the whole, the whole program," House majority leader Carl Albert told him. "I couldn't do a damn thing with them."

Veteran journalist Bill Moyers wrote that when Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act a year later, "he was euphoric'":

"But late that very night, I found him in a melancholy mood as he lay in bed reading the bulldog edition of the Washington Post with headlines celebrating the day. I asked him what was troubling him. 'I think we just delivered the south to the Republican party for a long time to come,' he said."

Johnson's fears were well-founded. The Republicans, sensing an opportunity, decided to pitch a clear appeal to southern segregationists in particular, and suburban whites in general, on the grounds of race. This would create a thoroughgoing transformation in the nation's politics that is only today, in the 21st century, beginning to unravel.

"We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said shortly before the last presidential election.

That day, 11 June 1963, epitomised the beginning of the end for business as usual.

Gary Younge's The Speech: the Story Behind Martin Luther King's Dream will be published by Haymarket Books in August. Follow him on Twitter @garyyounge 


General Henry Graham salutes and then confronts George Wallace on behalf of the federal government and the lawful enrollment of black students at the University of Alabama

Stand in the Schoolhouse Door
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Democratic Governor George Wallace stands defiantly at the door of the Foster Auditorium while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.

The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door took place at Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, in a symbolic attempt to keep his inaugural promise of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" and stop the desegregation of schools, stood at the door of the auditorium to try to block the entry of two black students, Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood.

The incident brought George Wallace into the national spotlight.


See also: African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) and Brown v. Board of Education

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision regarding the case called Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in which the plaintiffs charged that the education of black children in separate public schools from their white counterparts was unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board of Education meant that the University of Alabama had to be desegregated. In the years following, hundreds of African-Americans applied for admission, but all were denied. The University worked with police to find any disqualifying qualities, or when this failed, intimidated the applicants. But in 1963, three African-Americans with perfect qualifications—Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood—applied, refusing to be intimidated. In early June a federal district judge ordered that they be admitted, and forbade Governor Wallace from interfering.

The incident

Vivian Malone Jones arrives to register for classes at the University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium.

On June 11, Malone and Hood arrived to register. Wallace, attempting to uphold his promise as well as for political show, blocked the entrance to Foster Auditorium with the media watching. Then, flanked by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach told Wallace to step aside.[5][1] However, Wallace cut Katzenbach off and refused, giving a speech on States' rights. Katzenbach called President John F. Kennedy, who federalized the Alabama National Guard. General Henry Graham then commanded Wallace to step aside, saying, "Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the President of the United States." Wallace then spoke further, but eventually moved, and Malone and Hood registered as students.

In film

The incident was detailed in Robert Drew's 1963 documentary film Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment. The event was depicted in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, in which the title character appeared at the event,[7][8][9] and in the 1997 television movie George Wallace.

See also

Timeline of the African-American Civil Rights Movement
Little Rock Nine


Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Stand in the Schoolhouse Door Speech

^ a b Elliot, Debbie. Wallace in the Schoolhouse Door. NPR. June 11, 2003. Accessed February 19, 2009.

^ Governor George C. Wallace's School House Door Speech. Accessed February 19, 2009.

^ "Address on Civil Rights". Miller Center of Public Affairs. June 11, 1963. Retrieved 2013-02-07. "This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama."

^ a b c Standing In the Schoolhouse Door (June). Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Accessed February 19, 2009

^ Andrew Cohen (May 9, 2012). "Nicholas Katzenbach, Unsung Hero of America's Desegregation".

^ Lesher, Stephan (1995). George Wallace: American Populist. Da Capo Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-201-40798-1, 9780201407983 Check |isbn= value (help).

^ Byers, Thomas (1996). "History Re-Membered: Forrest Gump, Postfeminist Masculinity, and the Burial of the Counterculture". Modern Fiction Studies 42.2: 419–44. Retrieved 2009-02-28.

^ Paul Grainge (2003). Memory and Popular Film. Manchester University Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-7190-6375-6. Retrieved February 28, 2009.

^ Behind the Magic of Forrest Gump: "George Wallace." in Forrest Gump special collector's edition (DVD). 2001.
External links[edit]

Sarah Melton, "A Sleight of History: University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium", Southern Spaces, October 15, 2009.
JFK Address on Civil Rights (June 11, 1963)

The Crimson-white (University of Alabama student newspaper), June 9, 1963 and June 13, 1963, W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library.