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Medgar Wiley Evers

The Man, The Martyr, and the Meaning of the Civil Rights Struggle in Mississippi, 1925-1963

Michael Vinson Williams

Publication Year: 2011

Civil rights activist Medgar Wiley Evers was well aware of the dangers he would face when he challenged the status quo in Mississippi in the 1950s and ‘60s, a place and time known for the brutal murders of Emmett Till, Reverend George Lee, Lamar Smith, and others. Nonetheless, Evers consistently investigated the rapes, murders, beatings, and lynchings of black Mississippians and reported the horrid incidents to a national audience, all the while organizing economic boycotts, sit-ins, and street protests in Jackson as the NAACP’s first full-time Mississippi field secretary. He organized and participated in voting drives and nonviolent direct-action protests, joined lawsuits to overturn state-supported school segregation, and devoted himself to a career path that cost him his life. This biography of an important civil rights leader draws on personal interviews from Myrlie Evers-Williams (Evers’s widow), his two remaining siblings, friends, grade-school-to-college schoolmates, and fellow activists to elucidate Evers as an individual, leader, husband, brother, and father. Extensive archival work in the Evers Papers, the NAACP Papers, oral history collections, FBI files, Citizen Council collections, and the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Papers, to list a few, provides a detailed account of Evers’s NAACP work and a clearer understanding of the racist environment that ultimately led to his murder.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

I must first thank my parents, James and Delois Williams, who provided me with an academic foundation grounded in self-love and a respect for knowledge and one’s overall responsibility to humanity; without them I could not have succeeded. I owe my undying love and gratitude to my wife, Truly, and our two daughters, Ayo and Marimba; this project took a number of years...

Abbreviations

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pp. xi-

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Introduction

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pp. 3-11

ON THE EVENING OF JUNE 11, 1963, Myrlie Evers settled into her comfortable middle-class home and waited with anticipation for President John F. Kennedy to address the nation. Her husband, Medgar Evers, who also served as field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had left for work early that...

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1. “Mama called him her special child”: A LINEAGE OF RESISTANCE

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pp. 13-53

DECATUR, MISSISSIPPI, settled in 1836, serves as the seat of Newton County. The city chose its name in honor of naval commodore Stephen Decatur.1 Incorporated in 1840, Decatur—like most cities in the Deep South —relied upon the work of African Americans to prosper.2 Despite Decatur’s reliance upon black labor, its white residents demanded that blacks adhere...

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2. The “Road to Jericho”: FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA TO JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI

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pp. 55-83

THEODORE ROOSEVELT MASON HOWARD proved to be one of the greatest political influences upon Medgar’s early political development and played a prominent role in shaping the type of vocal activist he became. Born in Murray, Kentucky, on March 2, 1908, to Arthur and Mary Howard, Theodore Roosevelt Howard (during the late 1920s he added...

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3. The Face of Social Change: THE NAACP IN MISSISSIPPI

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pp. 85-116

PRIOR TO THE BIRTH of the NAACP in 1909, there were much more radical calls for an organization devoted to establishing social and political change in America. In 1905, William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois served as the chief organizer of the Niagara Movement. The twenty-nine delegates met at Niagara Falls, Canada, and outlined what would be...

Image Plates

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4. A Bloodied and Battered Mississippi

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pp. 117-170

THE YEAR 1955 PROVED a trying time for Medgar Evers and the state of Mississippi as witnessed by the particular murders of two prominent civil rights activists and one fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago, Illinois. Each murder profoundly affected Evers and deepened his commitment both to the state of Mississippi and to the overturning of its oppressive regime.

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5. The Black Wave: CONSERVATISM MEETS DETERMINISM

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pp. 171-211

THE TRAGIC EVENTS of the 1950s made an indelible mark on Evers. As a result, his anger and frustration with the status of “Negroes” in Mississippi intensified during the 1960s. Correspondence during the early 1960s indicates that Evers leaned more toward nonviolent direct action as a primary method for achieving social and economic equality. He must have...

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6. Riding the Rails: FREEDOM RIDE CHALLENGES AND THE JACKSON MOVEMENT

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pp. 213-236

ON DECEMBER 5, 1960, the Supreme Court ruled in Bruce Boynton v. Virginia that state laws requiring segregated waiting rooms, lunch counters, and restroom facilities for interstate passengers were unconstitutional. In May 1961, CORE, led by James Farmer, organized a series of “freedom rides” to test southern adherence to the Boynton decision. The...

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7. Two Can Play the Game: THE GAUNTLET TOSS

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pp. 237-265

IN 1963, IT SEEMED AS IF Evers transformed into a political icon overnight. He used the momentum gained in 1962 to heighten community activism by increasing his speaking engagements and intensifying his calls for social change. Medgar had “the ability to move beyond the present,” exclaimed Myrlie Evers-Williams, “and to look into the future.”1 Statements...

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8. Mississippi, Murder, and Medgar: OUR DOMESTIC KILLING FIELDS

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pp. 267-304

FOR MEDGAR EVERS, June 11, 1963, proved to be just as busy a day as every other day had been during the whirlwind that would be the last two weeks of his life. As usual, he spent time at his office preparing for the mass meeting scheduled for later that evening. Gloster Current was also in town and Evers felt the added responsibility of ensuring that Current had...

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Conclusion: It Is for Us to Remember the Dead

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pp. 305-316

AN ARTICLE WRITTEN IN 1989 by Clarion-Ledger staff writer Jerry Mitchell signaled the beginning of the end of Byron De La Beckwith’s final days of freedom. On October 1, the Clarion-Ledger reported that the Sovereignty Commission had aided Beckwith during his second trial by investigating potential jurors. According to Mitchell, the spy agency’s investigations into...

Notes

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pp. 317-376

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Bibliographical Essay: Medgar Wiley Evers as a Historical “Person of Interest”

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pp. 377-393

The historian John Tosh argued in The Pursuit of History that historians play a more practical role in society and thus the history they teach, whether to students in schools and colleges or the public at large, “needs to be informed by an awareness of this role.” Once historians integrate this knowledge into their teaching methodologies, then and only then can a...

Bibliography

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pp. 395-415

Index [Includes About the Author and Back Cover]

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pp. 417-434


E-ISBN-13: 9781610754873
E-ISBN-10: 1610754875
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289735
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289735

Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Evers, Medgar Wiley, 1925-1963.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights movements -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mississippi -- Race relations.
  • Civil rights workers -- Mississippi -- Jackson -- Biography.
  • Jackson (Miss.) -- Biography.
  • African American civil rights workers -- Mississippi -- Jackson -- Biography.
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