• Alex Dingwall

Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers: 50 Years On

"The Movement today for freedom cannot be pushed back anymore than a tidal wave can be pushed back by hand. That which seeks to destroy the freedom of Man, seeks to destroy the soul of Man." Medgar Evers, May 31, 1959

12th June 2013 marks 50 years since civil rights leader, Medgar Evers was assassinated. Less well known here in the UK than his native US he left an inspiring legacy of action against segregation. Born in 1925, Medgar Wiley Evers grew up in a Mississippi farming family. Drafted in 1943 he fought in both France and Germany during World War II, In 1948, he entered Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) in Lorman, Mississippi. During his senior year, Medgar married a fellow student, Myrlie Beasley. They later had three children: Darrell, Reena and James.

After graduation he became involved in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. His work with the RCNL was his first experience as a civil rights organizer. He spearheaded the group's boycott against gas stations that refused to let blacks use their restrooms. With his older brother, Charles, he also worked on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organizing local affiliates.

In 1954 Medgar became the first NAACP Field Secretary in Mississippi. He recruited new members for the NAACP and organized voter-registration efforts. He also led demonstrations and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination. He spent years investigating violence against black people, including the 1955 killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till. He helped James Meredith gain admission as the first black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962. He pushed for black voter registration, drew young people into the civil rights movement and, in the final months of his life, led a boycott of white-owned businesses in downtown Jackson.

Due to his high-profile position with the NAACP, Medgar became a target for those who opposed racial equality and desegregation. He and his family were subjected to numerous threats and violent actions over the years, including a firebombing of their house in May 1963.

At 12:40 a.m. on June 12, 1963, Medgar was shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson by a white segregationist. He died less than an hour later at a nearby hospital.

Medgar Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and the NAACP honored him posthumously with its 1963 Spingarn Medal.

Although his career as a political activist and organizer was cut short by his murder, Medgar Evers became and has remained an important symbol of the civil rights movement. Asked what her husband would think of US society today, his widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, has said:

"I believe he would look at the landscape of this country and realize what so many of us have said: We have made progress but there's still so much to be done, and if we don't guard the progress we've made, that too will slip away,". That is surely as true here in our own country as in the US.

For more information about Medgar Evers please visit the NAACP history site.

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