Recently, some of you, my age and older, may have paused on June 12 to remember a great American patriot, who refused to remain silent about things that matter. This great American was born in Decatur, Mississippi on July 2, 1925 and grew up in the state that became “a leader among the hard-core white supremacy states” in the South. And for those of us who need a reminder about the value and importance of being a beacon in the cause of equality and justice, we just need to remember the example and vision of Medgar Evers.
At a time when white resistance to the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle for equality and justice, was greatest, Medgar Evers demonstrated enormous courage and vision in speaking truth to power. As a civil rights activist and the first field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) in Mississippi, from 1954 to 1963, what mattered to Medgar Evers was the improvement in the lives of black Americans, helping them register to vote and organizing boycotts. It also mattered to Medgar Evers that he worked to create a sense of hope and optimism by helping to tear down the wall of Jim Crow and weakening the institution of racism in America as well, with the NAACP taking a more active role in the fight to end segregation in public schools.
As Medgar Evers continued to inspire many, 1960 became a turning point year for blacks in the South as evidenced by a “massive awakening for the Negroes of the South—indeed Negro Americans generally.” By this time blacks were taking ownership of their struggle for equality and justice, with many youth leading the way and committed to non-violence.
Medgar Evers’ introduction to the NAACP changed his life forever, as he became a man who was committed to ending racial injustice in the South, hoping to provide black Americans an opportunity to build a better life. By 1963, America was caught up in the civil rights struggle, and Evers had become widely known for his poise and determination, while working to recruit new members in the NAACP.
Seen by many as a threat to segregation and the southern way of life, Medgar Evers was assassinated in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963, just a short time after President Kennedy’s historic and nationally televised civil rights speech on June 11, 1963. And some three decades later in 1994, a racially mixed jury convicted Byron De La Beckwith with the murder of Evers, sentencing him to life in prison where he died in 2001.
So, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Medgar Evers on the 54th anniversary of his assassination, let’s remember him as someone who has inspired every generation going forward. And let us be willing to step up to the plate and do all we can to make a difference, right here in Sampson County.
Larry Sutton is a retired teacher from Clinton High School.