Friday, May 9, 2008

Medgar Evers

Medgar Wiley Evers was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and attended school there until he was inducted into the army in 1943. After serving in Normandy, he attended Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University), majoring in business administration. While at Alcorn, he was a member of the debate team, the college choir, and the football and track teams, and he also held several student offices and was editor of the campus newspaper for two years and the annual for one year. In recognition of his accomplishments at Alcorn, he was listed in Who’s Who in American Colleges.

At Alcorn he met Myrlie Beasley, of Vicksburg, and the next year, they were married on December 24, 1951. He received his B.A. degree the next semester and they moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, during which time Evers began to establish local chapters of the NAACP throughout the Delta and organizing boycotts of gasoline stations that refused to allow blacks to use their restrooms. He worked in Mound Bayou as an insurance agent until 1954, the year a Supreme Court decision ruled school segregation unconstitutional. Despite the court’s ruling, Evers applied for and was denied admission to the University of Mississippi Law School, but his attempt to integrate the state’s oldest public university attracted the attention of the NAACP’s national office, and that same year he was appointed Mississippi’s first field secretary for the NAACP.

Evers and his wife moved to Jackson, where they worked together to set up the NAACP office, and he began investigating violent crimes committed against blacks and sought ways to prevent them. His boycott of Jackson merchants in the early 1960s attracted national attention, and his efforts to have James Meredith admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962 brought much-needed federal help for which he had been soliciting. Meredith was admitted to Ole Miss, a major step in securing civil rights in the state, but an ensuing riot on campus left two people dead, and Evers’ involvement in this and other activities increased the hatred many people felt toward Evers.

Related Links & Info

Medgar Evers College:
The name of Medgar Evers has been immortalized in many ways but perhaps none more so grandly than in Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College, a unit of the City University of New York.

Film: For Us the Living
Myrlie Evers’ book about her husband was made into a TV movie starring Howard Rollins.

Statue of Evers in Jackson:
A statue of Medgar Evers was erected to honor him in his adopted hometown of Jackson on June 28, 1992.
“It may sound funny, but I love the South. I don’t choose to live anywhere else. There’s land here, where a man can raise cattle, and I’m going to do it some day. There are lakes where a man can sink a hook and fight the bass. There is room here for my children to play and grow, and become good citizens—if the white man will let them....”
—Medgar Evers, “Why I Live in Mississippi”

On June 12, 1963, as he was returning home, Medgar Evers was killed by an assassin’s bullet. Black and white leaders from around the nation came to Jackson for his funeral and then gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for his interment. Following his death, his brother, Charles, took over Medgar’s position as state field secretary for the NAACP. The accused killer, a white supremacist named Byron De La Beckwith, stood trial twice in the 1960s, but in both cases the all-white juries could not reach a verdict. Finally, in a third trial in 1994 (and thirty-one years after Evers’ murder), Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The legacy of Medgar Evers is everywhere present in the Mississippi of today. This peaceful man, who had constantly urged that “violence is not the way” but who paid for his beliefs with his life, was a prominent voice in the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi. Many tributes have been paid to Medgar Evers over the years, including a book by his widow, For Us, the Living, but perhaps the greatest tribute can be found in changes noted in Mississippi Black History Makers: “Ten years after Medgar’s death the national office of the NAACP reported that Mississippi had 145 black elected officials and that blacks were enrolled in each of the state’s public and private institutions of higher learning.... In 1970, according to statistics compiled by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, more than one-fourth or 26.4 percent of black pupils in Mississippi public schools attended integrated schools with at least a 50 percent white enrollment. When Medgar died in 1963, only 28,000 blacks were registered voters. By 1971, there were 250,000 and by 1982 over 500,000.”

—John B. Padgett

(Article first posted August 1997)
Updated September 2002

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Lyrics credit:

This video is a song Bob Dylan wrote after Medgar Evers’ death called, “Only a Pawn in Their Game”.


A bullet from the back of a bush
took Medgar Evers' blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.

A South politician preaches
to the poor white man
"You got more than blacks, don't complain
You're better than them, you
been born with white skin"
they explain
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers,
the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man's used
[ Find more Lyrics at ]
in the hands of them all like
a tool
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

From the powerty shacks, he
looks from the cracks to
the tracks
And the hoof beats pound in his brain
And he's taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide 'neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain't got no name
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried
from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He'll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game

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