Slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers was the first Mississippi Field Secretary of the NAACP. After running sit-ins and boycotts in Mississippi, the Evers’ home was fire bombed by the KKK in May 1963. The family survived, but Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway one month later. Evers was assassinated long before the nation endured the killings of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X.
As a result of Medgar Evers’ fearless leadership, his wife, Myrlie Evers-Williams, later became national chairwoman of the NAACP. She spoke at the second term inauguration of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama. His brother Charles Evers was the first black man elected mayor in Mississippi. And when you land in Jackson, you fly into the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. In 2011, the US Navy named a new 689-foot, $500 million dry cargo vessel the USNS Medgar Evers in honor or the slain civil rights activist.
Medgar Evers was born in 1925 in Decatur, Miss. After serving in France and Germany, he attended Alcorn College where met his wife Myrlie in 1950. Although the WWII veteran had been honorably discharged, he was denied admission to the University of Mississippi Law School in 1954 after fighting for his country in Normandy. That same year, he began working as a state field secretary for the NAACP. It was Evers’ responsibility to schedule protests and fight on behalf of victims of discrimination in Mississippi. His work made him a prime target for the white supremacists of Mississippi.
Evers was shot and killed in his own driveway on June 12, 1963 by long-time Klan member Byron De La Beckwith. After Evers’ funeral, Jackson, Miss. cops arrested over 350 black demonstrators under a parade-permit injunction, including ministers and young children. Medgar Evers is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The shooter, Byron De La Beckwith, was tried and released twice by all-white hung juries. He was re-tried in 1994 at 74 years old, and found guilty of first-degree murder. De La Beckwith died six years later while still imprisoned.
Now, 50 years after his death, a private ceremony was held at his gravesite in his honor. People gathered at the Arlington National Cemetery to remember the legacy of Medgar Evers. Notables such as journalist Gwen Ifill, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, Former President Bill Clinton, Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams and her surviving children were there to talk about the life and meaning behind the work of Medgar Evers. President Obama hosted the Evers family in the Oval Office this week in an emotional closed meeting. The event was also accompanied by a black-tie gala.