By Chelsea Zamora
As Friends of Justice prepares for our Civil Rights Tour in the Mississippi Delta, we are spotlighting some of the civil rights activists that have helped change the future for African Americans and minorities across the United States. Medgar Evers, Mississippi NAACP field secretary and civil rights martyr, heads the list.
Medgar Evers was born on July 2, 1925 in Decatur Mississippi. He grew up on a small farm with his parents and five siblings. While Evers was still young, several of his close friends were lynched, a devastating experience for the local black community. Yet this tragedy made Evers even more determined to finish school, a rare achievement for African Americans in Mississippi.
After high school, Medgar and his brother Charles joined the U.S. Army and were sent to Normandy in 1943. Medgar was honorably discharged as Sergeant two years later. In 1948 Evers enrolled in Alcorn College, a primarily black school, and majored in business administration while finding time for football, track, debate and choir. Evers was president of his junior class. During his third year of college, he married Myrlie Beasley and the couple had three children.
Later on, the couple moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi where Medgar worked as a life insurance agent company owned by Dr. T.R.M. Howard, the president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL). Evers eventually joined the group and became one of the main leaders to boycott segregated gas stations. His campaign featured the slogan: “Don’t buy gas where you can’t use the restroom”.
In 1954, Evers attempted to apply to the University of Mississippi Law School and, when he was rejected, he sued the university alleging that his civil rights had been violated. This bold action brought Evers to the attention of the NAACP and he soon became the organization’s first Mississippi field secretary.
Medgar and Myrlie Evers eventually moved to Jackson, MS to open a new base of operations for the NAACP. Soon he was at the forefront of the fight for civil rights. Evers began investigating hate crimes perpetrated against blacks, encouraging blacks to register to vote and leading peaceful boycotts against white merchants.
When James Meredith desegregated the University of Mississippi, Evers provided major assistance. Thanks to his work with the NAACP, national attention was brought to Mississippi creating deep resentment for Evers and his cause.
As the work of the NAACP grew, hatred of Medgar Evers grew even faster. There were numerous attacks on Evers and the NAACP throughout the early months of 1963. On the evening of June 11, Evers arrived at his home after a NAACP meeting. A bullet that ricocheted into his house struck him in the back, knocking to the ground. His family heard the gunshots and found their husband and father lying in a pool of blood, his car keys still in his hand. A few hours later, Medgar Evers was dead.
The murder of Medgar Evers death brought a wave of sadness and disappointment throughout blacks and whites throughout the United States. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
About a week after Evers’ death, Ku Klux Klan member Byron de la Beck was arrested for the murder of Evers. De la Beck was visited by former Mississippi governor Ross Barnett during the trial. With all-white juries, the two trials were deadlocked and Byron de la Beck was released. Friends of Medgar Evers were enraged. Byron de la Beck remained a free man until 1994 when new evidence led to his arrest and conviction. De la Beck died in prison in 2001.
As the 48th anniversary of Evers’s death approaches, his fight for justice has not been forgotten. Medgar Evers was a man that struggled with injustice and fought to make changes for his people. His martyrdom paved the way for kind of justice that all people deserve.