Black History Month: How I Learned About Medgar Evers

Black History Month: How I Learned About Medgar Evers

Sometime in the mid-1990s I went to see Ghosts of Mississippi at the theatre with a friend of mine. All I knew about it was that she wanted to see it and asked me, but I hadn't known what it was going to be about. Of course, if I had seen the movie today I would be outraged. I have a different lens on such things, historical films that try to tell the story of one person but end up making a hero out of another. I suppose that's a sort of progress in a way.

Almost as soon as the movie started, I leaned over and whispered to her, "Hey. I know this story. It's about Medgar Evers."

"Who? Who is that?" she asked.

I hate when people talk through an entire movie so I summed it up quickly for her and stopped talking so we could watch. After it was over she asked me how I knew who he was and it wasn't from some history class or watching a documentary or even reading a book. It was a story I heard from my step-mother.

I can't always recall the first time I've heard of someone from history, but Medgar Evers is one whose name is spoken and I remember the very moment. There was a bit of shame, on my part for not knowing who he was, but I simply hadn't been taught about him in my history classes in high school.

After my parents divorced, my father remarried a woman named Sharon who happened to know about Medgar Evers because he was her cousin. (I cannot recall now if he was a first or second cousin.) When I said I didn't know who he was, she schooled me. In a really good way. She brought out family photos and newspaper clippings and told me everything there was to know about him. In school we call those primary source documents. Never before and never since have I held such important pieces of history in my own hands.

Born in July of 1925, Medgar's life seemed to follow a traditional path of the military, college, marriage and family. He worked to overturn unfairness at the University of Mississippi to which he was denied admission into the law school. Not only did Evers work tirelessly as the field secretary for the NAACP, he also hired Thurgood Marshall as his lawyer to sue the University of Mississippi Law School in 1954.

As state field secretary, Evers traveled around Mississippi extensively. Feeling threatened by the important work of recruiting and organizing members of the NAACP especially in voter registration is what caught the attention of those who would seek to halt his work. Much of his work also revolved around the boycotting of white-owned establishments that practiced discrimination.

Medgar Evers was one of the most prominent civil rights activists in Mississippi. His work was focused in fighting racial injustices found in both state and local systems especially in the court system. For instance, Evers' work into the investigation of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who had allegedly been killed for talking to a white woman, had helped the battle of searching for the truth about Till's death even felt until the last decade.

Coming home one night Medgar was shot in his driveway by Byron de la Beckwith, a murderer who went free twice before finally being tried fairly. Medgar left behind a wife and two small children. After his death, his wife, Myrlie, took up his work and has spent the rest of her life ensuring that his work wouldn't go unnoticed. Myrlie Evers also became the first woman to lead the NAACP.

Visit Mocha Momma for more Black History Month profiles.

Related Posts

Haley Barbour to Free Scott Sisters: Beyond Race to the Bitter Aftertaste

Editor's update: A spokesperson for the Scott Sisters, Nancy Lockhart, announced tonight, Wednesday, January 5, that the Scott Sisters will be released from prison on Friday to start their lives on parole. By now you may have heard that on December 29, 2010, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, possibly a Republican contender for the presidency in 2012, has suspended indefinitely the life sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott. You've probably also heard that Jamie Scott was on dialysis in prison and that a condition of her sister's release is Gladys must donate a kidney to Jamie as soon as possible by decree of Gov. Barbour. That condition is only one of many disturbing elements in the sisters' journey through hell to freedom.   Read more >

The Scott Sisters of Mississippi: Social Justice Meets Social Media

If you should find yourself falsely accused and facing prison time or worse -- in prison serving time for a crime you did not commit or for a crime you committed but received an excessively harsh sentence -- you'll need a good attorney. Almost as much as an attorney, however, you may need social activists who understand social media to take up your cause. That's what the Gray-Haired Witnesses and other activist groups have done for two sisters, Gladys and Jamie Scott. They've taken up the cause of seeing the women freed from prison.   Read more >

NAACP Convention Dominated by Resolution Demanding Tea Partiers Denounce Racism

The 101st annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is meeting in Kansas City, Missouri this week, and the big headlines are going to a delegate resolution calling on leaders of  the Tea Party movement to repudiate racism in the "signs and speeches" of some of its supporters. Although the resolution does not call the movement racist, that's the focus of much of the commentary. The resulting controversy has given NAACP president Benjamin Jealous the best platform he has had to date to draw attention to the organization's civil rights agenda.  It has also renewed charges that the NAACP is a race-baiting organization pandering to Democratic political allies.   Read more >


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.