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MEDGAR EVERS

Civil Rights Activist (1925-1963)

Medgar Evers was one of the first martyrs of the civil -rights movement.  He was born in 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi to James and Jessie Evers.  After a short stint in the army, he enrolled in Alcorn A&M College, graduating in 1952.  His first job out of college was traveling around rural Mississippi selling insurance.  He soon grew enraged at the despicable condition of poorer Black families in his state, and joined the NAACP. 

In 1954, he was appointed Mississippi's first field secretary.  Evers was outspoken, and his demands were radical for his rigidly segregated state.  He fought for the enforcement of the 1954 court decisions of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed school segregation.  He fought for the right to vote, and he advocated boycotting merchants who discriminated.  He worked unceasingly despite the threats of violence that his speeches engendered.  He gave much of himself to this struggle, and in 1963, he gave his life. 

On June 13, 1963, he drove home from a meeting, stepped out of his car, and was shot in the back.  Immediately after Ever's death, the shotgun that was used to kill him was found in the bushes nearby, with the owner's finger prints still fresh.  Byron de la Beckwith, a vocal member of a local white-supremacist group, was arrested.  Despite the evidence against him, which included an earlier statement that he wanted to kill Evers, two trials with all-white juries ended in deadlock decisions, and Beckwith walked free. 

Twenty years later, in 1989, information surfaced that suggested the jury in both trials had been tampered with.  The assistant District Attorney, with the help of Ever's widow, began putting together a new case.  On February 5, 1994, a multiracial jury re-tried Beckwith and found him guilty of the crime.  The loss of Evers changed the tenor of the civil-rights struggle.  Anger replaced fear in the south, as hundreds of demonstrators marched in protest. 

Revised: July 18, 2013.