In the early morning of June 12, 1963, the day after George Wallace stood in the door at the University of Alabama attempting to block the entry of two black students, and just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s national televised speech in support of civil rights, Medgar Evers returned from a meeting with NAACP lawyers to his home in Jackson.
He pulled into his driveway, and, as he got out of his car, carrying a load of T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go,” a shot was fired and a bullet ripped through his back. He staggered across the driveway, and then collapsed. He was rushed to the Jackson hospital but was initially refused entry because of his color until it was explained who he was; he died in the hospital 50 minutes later.
Evers was born July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. He fought with the Army in the Battle of Normandy during World War II and was honorably discharged as a sergeant. After the war Evers went to college, married classmate Myrlie Beasley, had three children and became a salesman for the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company.
He became involved in the civil rights struggle and helped organize a boycott of filling stations which denied blacks use of the stations’ restrooms. Evers applied to University of Mississippi Law School in 1954 but was rejected by the then-segregated school. In 1954 Evers’ was named the NAACP’s first field secretary for Mississippi. He set up new local chapters of the NAACP, assisted James Meredith’s efforts to enroll in “Ole Miss”, and helped organize the Biloxi Wade-Ins, protests against segregation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast beaches.
Evers’ civil rights work soon made him a target of white supremacists. His public investigations into the murder of Emmett Till and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard had made him a prominent figure. On May 28, 1963, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home. On June 7, he was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from the Jackson NAACP office.
Evers was buried on June 19 in Arlington National Cemetery, where he received full military honors before a crowd of more than 3,000.
On June 21, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council, was arrested for Evers’ murder. District Attorney and future governor Bill Waller prosecuted De La Beckwith, but in two trials that year juries composed solely of white men deadlocked on De La Beckwith’s guilt.
30 years after the two trials had failed to reach a verdict, De La Beckwith was again brought to trial based on new evidence. On February 5, 1994 Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of the murder of Medgar Evers. He died in prison, at age 80, in January 2001.