Myrlie Evers-Williams, former chairwoman of the NAACP and widow of assassinated civil rights activist Medgar Evers, talked about her life with Evers and his legacy during a panel held Friday night at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.
“He genuinely loved the state of Mississippi and believed it could be a better place for all people,” Evers-Williams said of Evers during the discussion, which was moderated by Overby fellow Curtis Wilkie.
McLemore was a young civil rights activist at the time of Evers’ 1963 assassination and is now director of the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy at Jackson State University.
Mitchell is an investigative journalist whose work and collaboration with Evers-Williams led to the reopening of a trial that convicted Evers’ murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, in 1994 after two previous trial juries had failed to reach a verdict.
The discussion covered topics including the murder of Evers and his impact on Mississippi activism. Panelists also discussed the work that led to the conviction of Evers’ murderer, the effects of the outcome of a successful trial conviction and the dangers of working as a civil rights activist in 1960s Mississippi.
According to Evers-Williams, her late husband felt that his status as an American citizen led to his convictions about civil rights.
“He believed that being a citizen of this country should have allowed him to do and pursue whatever it is that he wanted to do,” she said.
Evers-Williams also recalled her initial reluctance and how their partnership strengthened over the course of the movement.
“I was somewhat reluctant at first, and perhaps I did not give him the support that I wished I would have at the beginning,” she said. “But we learned and lived, and he brought me along with him step by step.”
After the panel discussion, Evers-Williams spoke about her emotional struggles surrounding the death of her husband.
“It’s been difficult, but it was difficult because I was so full of anger and hatred, yet feeling the need to be feeling positive on the outside,” she said. “There were dual personalities that were fighting one another and finally emerging on the bright side.”
Evers-Williams has survived to live out the legacy left by her husband during his life as an activist.
“My husband gave his life for justice and equality for all,” she said. “What are you going to do? And here I am.”
Evers’ influence reached beyond Mississippi, according to McLemore.
“I was absolutely impressed by his brilliance and his courage, and he obviously has made an impression not only in this state, but all over this country,” he said.
Mitchell mentioned Evers-Williams’ perseverance and role in continuing Evers’ legacy, as well as the goals and attitudes of the civi rights movement as a whole.
“Even though this thing is about remembering Medgar Evers, I think the thing that sort of shines through is what an amazing woman Myrlie Evers is,” Mitchell said. “She amazes us all with her courage and wisdom and thoughtfulness.”
Nineteen years after Evers’ murderer’s conviction, Mitchell said he is still impressed with Evers-Williams’ willingness to set personal hurt aside to fight for justice in the court system.
“She’s so passionate and keeps persevering throughout all this,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people would have given up and said, ‘I’ve been through enough pain. I don’t want to go through this trial.’”
Kris Mitchell from The University of Alabama attended the talk as part of a regional Society of Professional Journalists conference.
“I think what she said that I found interesting was about the marriage issues that they had to deal with,” Mitchell said. “I feel like that’s a different side of the conversation that we don’t hear a lot.”
The life of Medgar Evers will be celebrated further June 5-12 in Washington, D.C., and in Jackson as a part of a commemoration series put on by the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute.
A full schedule of events can be found on the Evers Institute website.