WLBT Special Report: Remembering the life of Medgar Evers

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 7:06 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Medgar Evers dedicated his life to fighting for civil and human rights. After serving in World War II alongside his brother Charles Evers, returning to Mississippi had a jarring impact, especially seeing the extreme poverty and racism in his hometown.

“His neighbor, when my father was 14, and seeing him lynched and dragged and laid out for all to see as a reminder of staying in your place,” Reena Evers-Everette said.

Medgar Evers was a trailblazer. He was denied admission to the University of Mississippi Law School in 1954. Evers helped James Meredith when he enrolled at Ole Miss in 1962 by securing help from the NAACP’s legal team headed by Thurgood Marshall.

“As an organizer, not a lot of people knew that he was a very sensitive human being who understood the pain,” Evers-Everette said. “That’s where his passion came from, seeing the pain of injustice.”

Reena Evers-Everette is the executive director of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute. She has been the guiding force behind the 60th Commemoration Celebration to honor her father, mother, and uncle.

She remembers her mother’s last conversation with her father.

Evers-Everette said, “The night before he was killed as they were hugging each other and telling each other how much they loved each other and knowing that things were coming close. She said she couldn’t live without him. And he told her, ‘You’re stronger than you think you are.’”

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the National NAACP. He talked with 3 On Your Side about the brilliance of Medgar Evers in organizing and setting up chapters throughout Mississippi in just 8 years.

“You can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time if you’re determined,” Johnson said. “Medgar Evers was the person who investigated Emmitt Till’s murder. He worked [with] Amzie Moore and many others in the Delta. And as a result of his gathering the intel, and getting into the press, The Chicago Defender, opened up America’s eyes to what was taking place. It ignited a movement not just in Mississippi but all across the country.”

Johnson says Medgar Evers was truly a man before his time.

“Medgar Evers was leading the way of actually doing the work on the ground with real people. It wasn’t through speeches,” he said. “So, you don’t have a lot of film of him speaking because he was doing. He recognized that as an organizer, his job was to go to a community and push forward local leadership.”

“I don’t object to a (bleep) having guns. I said all the (bleep) gone do with a gun kills a rabbit or another (bleep).”

The man who took Evers’s life, Byron De La Beckwith, was finally convicted of his murder in 1994. He had been tried twice prior to his conviction. Both of those trials ended in hung juries.

Ed Bryson was a reporter here at WLBT. He had one of the first interviews with Beckwith at his Tennessee home.

Bryson said, “He had confirmed that I wasn’t Jewish, which was important to him, for some reason, before he agreed to do the interview.”

Bryson’s interview and the work of journalist Jerry Mitchell helped bring De La Beckwith to justice.

“He wasn’t afraid to reveal his point of view was that it was a very, very good thing that this killing had taken place,” he said. “He was very clear about that. In the interview, if you go back and look at that tape, he chuckled about it, you know, all those years later. It’s chilling and despicable.”

As the commemoration continues through Monday, the 60th anniversary of the assassination, Evers-Everette is focusing on the lives of her father, mother, and uncle, on their contributions, and how all of us can honor, pay tribute and continue the fight for justice, equality, and unity - something she discusses often with her mother.

“She’s extremely, extremely upset of where the nation this nation of United States is headed,” she said. “Banning books about cultures, about truth.”

Myrlie Evers celebrated her 90th birthday in March. Evers-Everette says The Voices of Courage and Justice Commemoration will be her last public appearance and she is hoping this will be the celebration of a lifetime.

Evers-Everette said, “I would love for her to see the people who care about her to be there to give her flowers... and to dance with her because she likes to dance. She loves the music.”

The National Park Service is helping give Mrs. Evers those flowers. They have created a packet of seeds with her photograph hoping that people all across the nation will plant flowers in her honor.

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