Medgar Evers, Mississippi Martyr.

The Seed and the Story is a weekly column exploring folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. The column is published in the Post Dispatch and is syndicated in the Courier. You can read previous columns here. 

In 1963 civil right activist and NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was murdered in the driveway of his Mississippi home, shot in the back after returning home from a meeting discussing the integration of local schools. His death came only eight years after the violent murder of young Emmett Till and followed on the heels of numerous other African Americans killed in the state, including Reverend George Lee and Lamar Smith. That evening President Kennedy gave a speech on national television in support of civil rights legislation, assuring the nation, especially Evers’ wife and children who were all home when he was shot, that Evers’ murder would not be in vain. It would not be until 1994 that his murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, was convicted.

A recent book written by Michael Vinson Williams, and published by the University of Arkansas Press, explores the life and death of this human rights leader who dedicated his short but potent life to fighting for equality in Mississippi and beyond. Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr begins by exploring Evers’ childhood growing up in Mississippi during Jim Crow. Despite the racism and violence that engulfed the region at that time, Evers was lucky enough to grow up in a middle class family in a strong black community. His father and mother, explains Williams, believed deeply in their own equality and did not allow fear to permeate the lives of Evers or his six siblings. It wasn’t until Evers took a job working as an insurance salesman, traveling around rural Mississippi and into impoverished sharecropping communities that he began to truly see the violence that poor blacks dealt with on a daily basis. Rather than turn away from the problems for fear of his own life, he began investigating the rapes, lynchings, and beatings, and made sure the rest of the world knew what was taking place in Mississippi.

Evers would eventually go on to become the field secretary for the NAACP and fight for change at both the national and local level. As Williams explains, Evers “was neither of the elite nor the grassroots, but an effective bridge between the two that helped strengthen the civil rights movement in Mississippi.” According to those who knew him, Evers had the ability to move in many circles and could have easily chosen to leave the state and move his family up north away from the violence, poverty, and overt Jim Crow racism of the south. Speaking about his decision to remain Evers, “As you can see, I do not plan to leave. I am anchoring myself here for better or for worse (I hope better), but if worse comes I’ll be in the middle of it.”

In speaking with author Michael Vinson Williams about his decision to explore Evers’ life in biographic form, Williams notes the power of a biography to help readers to grasp the humanity of a famous leader such as Evers. The important part, he explained, “is that biographies can inspire people to look around their own communities and understand their responsibilities and how they can tap into the work and significance of these past leaders to inspire them today.” Williams offers readers the opportunity to learn about Evers not simply as a historical figure but rather as a human with fears, worries, and struggles. We gain a better understanding of how Evers came to be such a brave leader and what sustained his continued work for a better world despite the dangers.  To order the books, click here. 

Have you read it? We’d love to hear from you! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. […] may recall one of our recent Seed and the Story columns highlighting the 2012 publication Medgar Evers: Mississippi […]