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Medgar Evers
 

Medgar Evers

“Hate is wasteful emotion, most of the people you hate don’t know you hate them, and the rest don’t care.”


In the mid-1900s, when Mississippi was a hub of activity for the civil rights movement, a young man with a powerful presence was named field secretary for the state’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

It was not a position that Medgar Evers took lightly.

Voting rights for blacks

Evers worked tirelessly to fight racial discrimination in the state, whether by leading efforts to establish voting rights for blacks, organizing boycotts of businesses that refused blacks or rallying for the integration of schools and universities.

As NAACP field secretary, Evers’ traveled statewide to establish new NAACP chapters, build membership and persuade youths to become involved in activism. His efforts led to the statewide NAACP membership to nearly double from 1956 to 1959.

But Evers perhaps best known for his efforts to integrate schools. In 1954, he applied to the then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School, only to be rejected by university officials. The NAACP legal team — including Thurgood Marshall, then an attorney for the civil rights group who would later become the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court — joined Evers’ fight for enrollment.

Although Evers never attended classes at the University of Mississippi Law School, the school began to enroll blacks in 1962.

Evers died on June 12, 1963, ironically hours after listening to President John F. Kennedy deliver a major speech on national television in support of civil rights. Evers had just returned to his Jackson, Mississippi, home when he was fatally shot.

He was rushed to the hospital, where at first he was denied entry. After learning who he was, the hospital admitted Evers, but within an hour, the activist died.

Byron De La Beckwith, a white segregationist and founding member of Mississippi’s White Citizens Council, was arrested within days of Evers’ death and charged with the shooting. Two trials with all-white juries failed to convict Beckwith, despite investigators finding a weapon at the scene with the suspect’s fingerprints on it and several witnesses placing Beckwith at the scene.

Decades later, however, new evidence was discovered and in 1994 Beckwith was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Over the years, Evers’s legacy has been kept alive in many ways. In 1970, Medgar Evers College was established in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the City University of New York. A made for television movie, “For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story,” aired in 1983 and the 1996 movie “Ghosts of Mississippi.”

 

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