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Medgar Evers, 50 Years Later

The story and legacy of slain civil rights hero Medgar Evers, 50 years after his assassination in Mississippi.

Medgar Evers, state secretary for the NAACP is seen, Aug. 9, 1955 in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP)

Medgar Evers, state secretary for the NAACP is seen, Aug. 9, 1955 in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP)

Medgar Evers is not a man to be forgotten. A civil rights movement hero of incredible courage who stood up to report and resist sharp racist oppression in Jim Crow Mississippi. A father of three 37 years old when he was gunned down 50 years ago this week in the driveway of his Mississippi home.

Medgar Evers pulled back the Cotton Curtain that hid the scale and depth of racial abuse from the world. And he was killed for it. Shot in the back in the middle of the night.

This hour On Point: the story and legacy of Medgar Evers – American hero.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Michael Vinson Williams, author of “Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr.” Professor of History and African American Studies at Mississippi State University.

Bernard Lafayette Jr., longtime civil rights activist and organizer. Co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, and directed the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962.

Haley Barbour, 62nd Governor of Mississippi, served from 2004 to 2012. (@haleybarbour)

From Tom’s Reading List

ABC News: Medgar Evers’ Widow Myrlie ‘Can’t Let Dream Die’ 50 Years Later – “It has been 50 years since civil rights leader Medgar Evers was gunned down in the driveway outside his home in Jackson, Miss., and his widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, says she still feels him speaking to her. At a memorial honoring him in Washington Wednesday, Evers-Williams remembered her husband’s saying, ‘I love my wife and I love my children. And I will give my life and give it gladly so that they can have a better life in this country of mine.’”

The Times Picayune: Remembering Medgar Evers’ assassination and writer Eudora Welty’s angry response – “Byron De La Beckwith had yet to be identified, arrested or tried as the man who on June 11, 1963, killed Medgar Evers, the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP. And yet, Eudora Welty, one of the state’s most gifted writers, knew who he was. No, Welty didn’t know De La Beckwith’s name or what he looked like. But Welty was from Mississippi and of Mississippi, and she knew Mississippi. So even if she didn’t know the name or look of the assassin, she was dead certain she knew how he’d sound.”

Jackson Clarion-Ledger: Medgar Evers: Assassin’s gun forever changed a family – “No matter where Charles Evers tromped, Medgar Evers trailed behind. The preteen brothers explored the woods of Newton County, Miss., stepping past endless pines and hurdling creeks where the water ran muddy red. Charles taught his brother, 3 years younger, how to hunt and fish. Better yet, he taught him how to punch.”

Playlist

“Too Many Martyrs” by Phil Ochs

“Only A Pawn In Their Game” by Bob Dylan

“Ballad Of Medgar Evans” by SNCC Freedom Singers, led by Matthew Jones

 

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  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Today people use the word hero indiscriminately. Sometimes it’s for doing a good deed, sometimes it’s for surviving a dread disease. Using the word so freely diminishes its meaning.

    Medgar Evers consciously chose to risk his life to save others from a future of unending racial violence and repression. He was a true hero and sadly, he paid the ultimate price.

    • geraldfnord

      Regarding ‘hero’: You are entirely correct (using the term in its proper sense of ‘agrees with me’).

      A certain Dr Stephen Colbert effectively satirised this from the very beginning of his ministry, telling his audience that we were all heroes just by tuning-in….

      And to be clear: Evers was not an hero by the manner of his death—he was a ‘martyr’ thereby—but rather for the years of danger he accepted as necessary to his great and good purpose.

  • Steve

    Medgar Evers was a great American.  He sacrificed his life for the cause of justice and freedom.  Today’s young people should know of his heroism.  If we could clone him this world would be a much better place.  Bless you for doing this show, Tom.

  • donniethebrasco

    It is unfortunate that Malcolm X was ordered killed by lecherous  Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan.

    • 65noname

      huh?

  • donniethebrasco

    I believe that Medgar Evers would be embarrassed by the incredible damage that the Great Society has done to the industriousness and creativity of American Black culture and society.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

       What damage are you referring to?

      Neil

      • donniethebrasco

         Teenage pregnancy, high levels of crime and incarceration, lack of supermarkets and economic activity in black neighborhoods, increased segregation through white flight.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          As you are saying these are the results of The Great Society? Really?

          Neil

          • donniethebrasco

             Precisely.  Great Society and other government giveaway programs remove incentive and motivation and replace it with lethargy and dependence.

    • Steve

      The key pillars of the Great Society were the 1964, 1965 and 1968 Civil Rights Acts, plus Medicare and Medicaid.  The 1964, 1965 and 1968 civil rights laws freed black Americans to realize their dreams, and finally made the United States a real democracy.  Medicare and Medicaid brought great benefit to all Americans, including black Americans.  

      Donnie, you should study up on the Great Society before you embarrass yourself further.

  • geraldfnord

    I’d like to thank Mr Barbour for his tireless work to expel the fugitive Dixiecrats from his party, and to ensure that none of his party would ever stoop to trying to appeal to their supporters.

    • 65noname

      I’m assuming that you’re being sarcastic

  • Steve__T

    So few comment on such an important discussion. That is sad, but very reflective of today’s mindset.  We still haven’t gotten there, where we can discuss thees things openly and freely, speak up about our true feelings of what happened and whats going on now. Thanks to On Point for giving this opportunity, thanks to you who participated.

  • donniethebrasco

    How are blacks being systemically incarcerated?  It is a problem of the Great Society removing motivation.

    Handing free money to poor blacks creates the prison population.

    • Steve

      A recent study, reported in the New York Times on June 3, found that blacks are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06… 

      Our jails are filled with blacks arrested for trivial offenses for which whites would not be detained.

      Behind this scandal lies a predatory privatized prison industry that preys on minority communities to feed its bottom line.

      Donnie, to avoid embarrassing yourself further you should try reading before you type.

      • donniethebrasco

         I agree with the decriminalization of drugs.  But violent crime should be prosecuted.

    • geraldfnord

      In my teens I knew a few white teenagers from ‘good’ families who used drugs. A couple of them came to the attention of the police, who gave them ‘stern talking-to’s but didn’t want their lives blighted by an arrest; one burn-out was committed for awhile.

      In my academically élite college there were hundreds of drugs-users and no arrests.

      Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi.

  • Steve

    Response to donniethebrasco:

    A recent study, reported in the New York Times on June 3, found that blacks are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates:
     
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/us/marijuana-arrests-four-times-as-likely-for-blacks.html?_r=0
     
    Our jails are filled with blacks arrested for trivial offenses for which whites would not be detained.

    Behind this scandal lies a predatory privatized prison industry that preys on minority communities to feed its bottom line.

    • donniethebrasco

      What about violent crimes?

    • John Cedar

      A report by the American Civil Liberties Union?
      It MUST be true.

  • sceptic15

    I am 68 years old, white, about Haley Barbour’s age and grew
    up in Nashville, Tn.  This is the second
    time I have heard Haley Barbour talk on NPR about the happy darkies where he
    grew up during the civil rights movement. 
    The white people cared about the blacks; there was no violence in his
    corner of Mississippi.  Someone needs to
    call him on this myth.  The constant threat
    of violence can keep people from speaking out or demonstrating for their
    rights.  Many Southerners were very fond
    of blacks that they knew well, and helped them, but never thought of this
    servant class as equals and therefore should not be given the same rights, or
    be integrated with them into the same institutions.  As for the whites beginning to realize during
    the 1960’s that segregation was wrong, that is simply not true.  Of course some realized it – in my limited experience
    at that time, women – but generally not the powers that be.   This
    radical idea was not discussed in the Presbyterian churches and the country clubs.  Willie Morris in The Courting of Marcus
    Dupree, asks where were the good people of Philadelphia, Ms when
    the 3 white civil rights workers disappeared and then their bodies were found,
    or when the black churches were burned down. 
    That is a question that I still can’t answer.  Maybe these good people were also afraid of
    speaking up or just plain didn’t care.  I
    heard more than once that those meddling Yankees should have known it could be
    dangerous.

    • Steve

      Dear sceptic15: Your comment is spot on.  I lived in Mississippi for a time in the 1960s.  Any black person who stood up for civil rights in Mississippi in those days would likely lose their job, and could well be beaten or killed.

      Haley Barbour is whitewashing an ugly past.  He should be ashamed of himself.  Mr. Barbour: study history before you talk about it!

      White Mississippians deserve credit for coming a long way since the 1960s.  Many now recognize that their subjugation of their black fellow-citizens was wrong.  But this achievement should not cause us to forget how profoundly cruel the Mississippi system was.

      For a portrait of 1960s-era Mississippi see James Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society.

  • 4GivingSpirit

    I’ve been listening to today’s program with interest.
    I am disturbed by the white gentleman’s call, in which he naively (in my opinion) states that there was not violence when there was segregation. Jim Crow was violent.  It was an assault on the psyches of black people and of the whites who learned that they were some kind of superior race.
    People lived in fear and everyone had a relative or friend in some part of the state of Mississippi, who had been falsely accused and tortured, murdered, or both.

    Haley Barber as recently as a year or so ago, spoke of his kids going to integrated schools…check the facts.  I would be very interested in having you interview folks who claim they were segregationists but sincerely opposed to violence to enforce it as one of your speakers professed.

    I am a Jewish woman of European decent.  I was raised in the north and was on my first picket line at Woolworths on Long Island at the age of 13; I went with my friend.
    I did not realize how bad it was until I joined the civil rights movement as a young woman but I can tell you that I knw right from wrong and I knew racism when I saw it ( it was not taught in our American history text books.  I heard it from classmates and was blessed to learn from my parents, at least in principal, that racial prejudice was wrong.

    Black people who were brought to this land in chains AND those who lived their lives (or a portion of their lives) as free people, continue to suffer the effects of racism. I reference the myriad studies and the fact that I know not one Black man who has not been stopped in his car, for no reason, and asked for I.D. at some point in his life. That’s right, not one.
    (DRB)

    This brings me to my final point.  The German government and the government of the United States, have both provided reparations (no matter that said compensation, is, in every case, insufficient,  to ethnic populations upon whom they committed genocide or incarceration based on racism, (I reference Jews, Native Americans, and Japanese) but no reparations have ever been offered (40 acres and a mule) and delivered, to the men, women and children, who built this country and many descendants who suffer still, the effects of that deprivation.

    • donniethebrasco

       Do you live in a town that is mostly Jewish?

      • jefe68

        Do you live in a town that’s mostly bigoted idiots?

        • Steve

          I note that donniethebrasco’s odious brown-shirt-smelling comment has been removed by On Point.  Thanks On Point for trying to keeping things a little bit civil.

    • John Cedar

      The Jews have never provided reparations for killing Jesus either. What is your point? Most of us never participated in the crimes and torts that race baiters are obsessed in fanning the flames of. There is not enough gold in the universe to pay for all the suffering man has inflicted on man and the men who are guilty are no longer living.

      But apparently too many subscribe to the idea that two wrongs make a right. Hence we get ignorant statments such as “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her
      experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a
      white male who hasn’t lived that life,” and no one on the left bats an eye upon hearing it said. Along with ignorant rulings that must be overturned by the SCOTUS such as Ricci v. DeStefano.

      Civil rights discussions always seem to be constrained to certain flavors. The right to defend yourself using violence comensurate with the threat always seems to be left out. We now have zero tolerance for fighting in schools. A clear violation of civil rights and the right to defend oneself.

      We have citys such as Chicago who thumb their noses at the SCOTUS and make it nearly impossible to defend yourself with a gun.

      And today we have a man of Hispanic decent on trial for murdering a black man. A man who was origonally not charged because of the “stand your ground law” in his state. But higher powers intervened because the victim was black, and charged him anyway.

      • Steve

        John Cedar and donniethebrasco: Undiluted full-moon-howler content is rare on this comment thread.  Thanks for sharing some with us!

        • John Cedar

          You make a compelling argument and I would like to subscribe to your news letter.

      • jefe68

        The Jews have never provided reparations for killing Jesus either.

        Are you kidding me? Who the hell do you think you are?

        • Steve

          Dear jefe68:

          You ask a good question.  Who the hell is John Cedar? 

          My answer: in his hate-filled spittle-spewing contempt for his fellow-Americans he is a fairly typical representative of the contemporary American conservative movement. 

          Conservatives have fallen a long way from the days when they read Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk and believed in the value of community.  Now they live in a moral sewer.  They have the ethics of insects.  Our great country will not be safe as long as they stand in the wings of power.

          • jefe68

            The irony there is Rand was Jewish and had to apply for SS and Medicare in later life.

          • John Cedar

            There is morirony there than you acknowledge. It is I who is being treated as an enemy due to disagreements and it is I who has a war waged against me by a couple of unarmed militant libruls.

            I doubt I’m conservative, but maybe…I’m pro abortion but not pro choice.

        • John Cedar

          A.) Are your questions rhetorical?
          2.) Who do you think YOU are?

  • 4GivingSpirit

    No, why do you ask Donnie. Do you have any sentiments about Jews you’d like to express?

    • donniethebrasco

      Obama is letting Israel hang in the wind.

  • Bruce94

    The last comment by one of today’s guests that institutional and other forms of racism still exist was spot on.  The racism, as he pointed out, is tied to economic injustice.  Just look at what’s happening in the once progressive state of NC since the  Republicans took over both the Executive and Legislative branches of govt. there–enabled by a massive infusion of dollars from the Koch Brothers.  Now we’re beginning to see a backlash in the form of a grassroots movement called Moral Mondays reminiscent of the Civil Rights-era protests.

    Lest we forget, the attempt to transform NC into a Conservative Nirvana could be anticipated given the revision of the GOP’s Southern Strategy as per Lee Atwater, campaign adviser and spinmeistser for Presidents Reagan and H. W. Bush, when he famously said:

    “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N****r, n****r, n****r.’  By 1968 you can’t say ‘n****r’–that hurts you, backfires.  So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.  Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…’We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N****r’…”

    • William

       If you look at the push for immigration “reform” it is a pretty racist policy because the blacks in this country will really suffer once it is passed. The illegals have kept wages low for blacks and pushed them out of the traditional middle class jobs in construction.

  • gqlewis

    Those people who stood up against oppression back in the 1960s (100 years after emancipation) against such great odds were beyond brave. I am in awe of their selfless courage and self sacrifice. I visited Jackson, MS recently, and I had to visit his home just to honor him because I know that he was standing up for me and others like me to come. 

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