Civil rights leader Myrlie
Evers-Williams is perhaps best remembered as the widow of Medgar
Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP who
in 1963 was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson.
In the years since the assassination and two hung juries that left
the accused gunman, white supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, a free
man, Mrs. Evers has continued to wage a lonely war to keep her husbands
memory and dreams alive and to bring his killer to justice. Her
diligence eventually paid off when Beckwith was brought to trial
for a third time and finally, in 1994, was found guilty of the murder
of Medgar Evers, more than 30 years after the crime.
Myrlie Beasley was born March
17, 1933, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1950, she enrolled at Alcorn
A&M College, where she met Medgar Evers, an upperclassman and
Army veteran. She left school before earning her degree, and they
married on Christmas Eve, 1951.
After Medgar was named the Mississippi
state field secretary for the NAACP in 1954, Myrlie became his secretary
and together they worked to organize voter registration drives and
civil rights demonstrations. As prominent civil rights leaders in
Mississippi, the Everses became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist
violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home in Jackson was firebombed
in reaction to Medgars organized boycott of downtown Jacksons
The violence reached its worst point the
following year, when Medgar was gunned down by a sniper in front
of his home. On the evening of June 11, 1963, President John F.
Kennedy in a televised speech had pleaded for racial harmony and
had announced his plan to submit new civil rights legislation to
Congress, a plan which infuriated many segregationists. At about
12:30 a.m. on June 12, Medgar had just pulled into the driveway
after a long day of work, when a shot from a 30.06 military rifle
hit him in the back.
The rifle was recovered about 150 feet
from the scene of the shooting, and on its scope were found the
fingerprints of its owner, Byron De La Beckwith, a 42-year-old fertilizer
salesman and an outspoken opponent of integration. Though he publicly
denied any involvement with the shooting, he made it clear that
he was glad it had happened.
He was indicted for the murder, but in
two separate trials, the all-white juries deadlocked and he was
set free. Mrs. Evers and her three children moved to Claremont,
California, where she enrolled at Pomona College and began working
toward her bachelors degree in sociology. In 1967, she co-wrote
a book about her husband, For Us, the Living, with William
Peters, and she continued to make numerous personal appearances
on behalf of the NAACP.
In 1968, she earned her degree from Pomona
College, and in 1975 she married Walter Williams. In 1988, she was
the first black woman to be named to the five-member Board of Public
Works by Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, where she helped oversee
a budget of nearly $1 billion.
She also kept up pressure to retry the
case of her first husbands assassin, and in the early 1990s,
she convinced prosecutors in Mississippi to reopen the case. Aiding
the prosecution were new witnesses willing to testify against Beckwith
and Myrlies own copy of the original trial transcript, since
the official one supposedly on record had been removed some time
earlier by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a secret organization
that from 1956 to 1973 had been charged with maintaining the racial
status quo. On February 4, 1994, Beckwith was found guilty by a
jury consisting of eight African Americans and four whites. The
73-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison, where he died in
In 1995, the same year her second husband
died of prostate cancer, Myrlie Evers-Williams became the first
woman to chair the NAACP, a position she held until 1998. In 1999,
she published her memoirs, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the
Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, which charts her
journey from being the wife of an activist to becoming a community
leader in her own right.
posted September 2002)
Links & Info
in-depth profile on Ms. Evers-Williams as part of its Black
History Month 2002 features.
Evers-Williams wrote the foreword
Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, by
Steven Kasher, published by Abbeville Press in 1996.
April 23, 2002, Myrlie Evers-Williams appeared on the PBS NewsHour
program to talk
about the role the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger
newspaper had in prompting the first successful prosecution of her
husbands 1963 murder.
- (as Mrs. Medgar Evers) For Us, the Living. With
William Peters. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1967.
- Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the
Woman I Was Meant to Be. With Melinda Blau. Boston: Little,
- Media Productions
- Motion Pictures:
Us the Living: The Story of Medgar Evers. Dir. Michael Schultz.
Screenplay by Ossie Davis. Starring Howard Rollins, Jr., Irene Cara,
Laurence Fishburne, and Paul Winfield. 1983. Television film based
on her book.
of Mississippi. Dir. Rob Reiner. Columbia Pictures/Castle-Rock
Entertainment. Starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods,
and Craig T. Nelson. Based on the book by Maryanne Vollyers.
- Southern Justice: The Murder of Medgar Evers. New York:
Ambrose Video, 1994. Originally broadcast on HBO as a segment of
“The America Undercover” series. Executive producers:
Paul Hamann, Sheila Nevins; photographer: Bob Perrin; film editor:
Malcolm Daniel; original music: Mark T. White. Narrated by Julian
Bond. The assassination of Medgar Evers is placed within the context
of race relations in Mississippi at mid-century by means of archival
photography, interviews with Myrlie Evers and convicted murderer
Byron de la Beckwith, and reenactments of murder trial scenes.
- Articles and Interviews:
- Internet Resources
- About the Author:
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