Forgotten Black Leaders: Remembering Medgar Evers

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When Black History Month comes around we often hear about the same great activist Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. Yes, these individuals have helped fight racism and changed our perception on what African Americans and truly all communities can do when we come together, and demand a change.

However, we rarely hear about other activists such as Medgar Evers who was an activist in Jackson Mississippi and was fatally shot outside of his home in 1963. Yes you read this correctly. He was assassinated by segregationist Byron De La Beckwith.

Evers, a World War II veteran and later college graduate, became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s.

Evers also married his fellow classmate, Myrlie Beasley, whom he stayed with until his death. Together they had three children: Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke Evers.

Later joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where he became Mississippi’s first field secretary. As field secretary, he organized boycotts and also helped set up new local chapters of the NAACP.

Evers also helped organize the Biloxi wade-ins, which were protests against segregation of public beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Yet with his progress and efforts for change, this mad Evers’ was a target of white supremacists.

The White Citizens Council was founded in Mississippi, with many local chapters. Created for the soul purpose to resist integration of schools and civil rights goals.

In 1954, following the ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated public schools, Evers worked to desegregate public schools and also helped African Americans gain admission to the state-supported public University of Mississippi. Evers also focused on voting rights and registration, economic opportunity, access to public facilities, and other changes in segregation.

Weeks before Evers’ death, he encountered levels of hostility. His public investigations into the 1955 lynching of teenager, Emmett Till and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard had made him a prominent black leader. On May 28, 1963, objects were thrown into his home. On June 7, 1963, Evers was almost run down by a car after he was seen leaving from the NAACP office in Jackson.

June 12, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy‘s nationally televised Civil Rights Address, Evers pulled into his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car, Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle; the bullet ripped through his heart. He staggered 30 feet before collapsing. He was taken to the local hospital in Jackson, Mississippi where he was initially refused entry because of his race. His family explained who he was and he was admitted; he died in the hospital 50 minutes later.

Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council (and later of the Ku Klux Klan), was arrested for Evers’ murder on June 21, 1963. All-white juries twice that year failed to reach a verdict. At the time, most blacks were kept away by Mississippi’s constitution and voter registration practices, this meaning they were also excluded from juries, which were based on registered voters.

In 1994, De La Beckwith was prosecuted by the state based on new evidence. Bobby DeLaughter was the prosecutor. 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.

Black Leaders such as Medgar Evers and more should be remembered and continually brought up. Their sacrifices deserve to be remembered.