Sunday, June 11, 2006
Medgar Evers Killed, June 12, 1963
Today in 1963, Medgar Evers was gunned down in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. He is today remembered as one of the great leaders of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s in the United States.
Evers was born in Decatur, Mississippi in July, 1925. In 1943, at the age of 18, he was inducted into the US Army. He fought in the European Theater from D-Day until the end of the war in May, 1945. Evers returned home and was reunited with his brother, who had also fought overseas. The two men, along with a few friends, registered to vote in the next election. But on election day, their polling place was surrounded by an armed mob of white citizens. Evers and his brother, both honorably discharged veterans, were denied their right to vote.
Evers enrolled at Alcorn State University in 1948, where he met and married his wife, Myrlie. After graduation, the couple moved to Mound Bayou, MS, where Evers sold insurance and became involved with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, a civil rights organization. Evers first experience with a boycott came when the RCNL called for blacks to stop doing business with gas stations which denied them use of their bathrooms.
Evers applied to law school at the University of Mississippi in 1954, but his application was rejected because the school was segregated. His case drew the attention of the NAACP, who used him as part of their campaign to desegregate the school. Instead of attending law school there, he instead became an active member of the NAACP, becoming the organization’s first field officer in Mississippi. Though he was not allowed to attend the University, his work led to its desegregation in 1962.
After the Evers family moved to Jackson, Medgar found himself the target of numerous death threats. He took these threats so seriously that he taught his children to drop onto the floor whenever they heard a strange noise outside their home. A few weeks before his death, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at his house; it exploded in the carport where Myrlie put out the fire with a garden hose.
Evers was the center of so much hate because of his efforts to register blacks to vote in Jackson and to form a biracial committee to discuss social problems in the city. Much of his time was spent bailing protesters out of the local jail. He was tireless in his efforts, often working more than 20 hours a day.
On the day Medgar Evers was shot outside of his home, President John F. Kennedy, who himself would be assassinated later that year, addressed the nation. He pledged federal support for segregation and called resistance to civil rights “a moral crisis.” A few hours later, Evers would lie bleeding on his doorstep with less than an hour to live. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. More than 3,000 people attended his funeral.
Less than two weeks later, an FBI investigation resulted in the arrest of Byron De La Beckwith. He was charged with Evers’ murder, but two all-white juries found themselves dead-locked over his case in 1964. A lack of a conviction meant that De La Beckwith walked away a free man.
Thirty years would go by before justice was finally served. De La Beckwith was once again brought to trial based on new evidence against him. He was convicted in February, 1994 but appealed the decision until his death in 2001.