NAACP leaders from around the country are honoring the memory of the group’s former Mississippi leader, Medgar Evers, nearly 50 years after he was assassinated outside his Jackson home.
NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous and board chairwoman Roslyn Brock helped Evers' widow lay a wreath of yellow and white flowers Thursday at the modest one-story house, now a museum.
Myrlie Evers-Williams told nearly 200 people that she and her husband knew his civil rights work put his life in danger in a deeply segregated state, and he had endured threats. She said the night before he was slain, they sat in their home and he made her promise she'd take care of their three young children if anything should happen to him.
Evers-Williams said she vividly remembers hearing the shot that cut down her 37-year-old husband in their carport on June 12, 1963, blowing a hole in his chest. He died a short time later at a Jackson hospital. She and the children were up past midnight, waiting for him, and she said all she could do was scream.
“Fifty years later, it is almost as fresh to me as it was that night,” Evers-Williams said.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People board is meeting in Jackson for the first time in 30 years. It chose the city because of the 50th anniversary of the Evers assassination.
The NAACP meeting started May 15 and runs through May 18. Several other events are planned in Mississippi and Washington, D.C., to mark the Evers anniversary in the next few weeks.
Evers-Williams was chairwoman of the national NAACP board from 1995 to 1998. She now teaches at Alcorn State University in south Mississippi.
Brock presented her with a new T-shirt emblazoned with “Jim Crow Must Go.” The same slogan was on a stack of T-shirts Medgar Evers was carrying when he was hit by a sniper's bullet.
“While Medgar Evers is now duly recognized as a civil rights icon, 50 years ago he was just a man, unwilling to accept discrimination as the status quo in our country ... a man willing to risk his life for what he believed in,” Brock said.
Byron de la Beckwith, a white man who sold fertilizer, was tried three times in Evers' slaying. The first two trials in the 1960s ended in hung juries. In 1994, Beckwith was convicted of murder and given a life sentence. He died in prison in 2001.
Jealous, who used to live in Mississippi, said Evers’ legacy won't be forgotten, but people still need to actively protect human dignity and defend equal rights.
“Our children deserve to grow up in a country where their voting rights are protected,” Jealous said. “Our children deserve to grow up in a country where they are respected and supported, no matter what race or color.”