Thursday, June 13, 2013

Longview crowd honors civil rights leader Medgar Evers on 50th anniversary of assassination

By Richard Yeakley

PHOTO by Michael Cavazos, LNJ
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More than 100 people honored one of the civil rights movement’s heroes Wednesday near the steps of the Gregg County Courthouse.

The ceremony was held to remember the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers, a black civil rights activist who was at the forefront of the fight to desegregate Mississippi schools.

Evers was shot in the back June 12, 1963, outside his home in Jackson, Miss.

Wednesday’s ceremony was one of countless gatherings across the nation to commemorate Evers’ sacrifice and resolve in a continued fight for equality.

“I would just like to say, that although we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go,” said Ernie Smith, who along with his wife, Faye, said they remembered reading and hearing about Evers’ death.

Evers, an early leader in the civil rights movement, fought the University of Mississippi Law School to desegregate after his application to the school was rejected.

He was prominent in voting drives for Mississippi’s black residents.

Evers was shot to death in his driveway, and his death has been credited for helping spur the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Branden Johnson, president of the Longview Chapter of the NAACP, which sponsored the event, told the gathered crowd about the goals of the organization, to which Evers belonged, and how the NAACP continues to fight for what Evers died for.

“What we want to do at the NAACP .. we want to make it clear that any blood that has been shed, and any injustice has been done will not go away until we get the stain out,” Johnson said.

The ceremony included the reading of poems and historical writings about Evers as well as a selection of his quotes.

“ ‘Let men of good will and understanding change the old order, for this is a new day,’ ” read Victoria Wilson.

“ ‘Hate is a wasteful emotion; most of the people you hate don’t know you hate them, and the rest don’t care,’ ” read Sophia Brewer.

Mandel Stoker repeated Evers’ words from a national broadcast in 1963, saying “’ In the racial picture things will never be as they once were. History has reached a turning point, here and over the world.’ ”

Stoker said it is important people remember the sacrifice.

Johnson mirrored the message, calling every child in attendance, including about a dozen from a summer day camp, to come to the stage as he praised the hope for the future.

Vik Verma, a leader in the Longview chapter of the NAACP, encouraged all in attendance to join with the group in continuation of Evers’ work.

“People can and do make a difference. We achieve maximum success when we have an entire community involved. Our strength is in numbers, and it starts with you,” Verma said.

About Medgar Evers

Civil rights activist Medgar Everswas a civil rights activist assassinated in 1963 in Jackson, Miss.

A World War II veteran and a graduate of Alcorn College, In 1952, Ever began working in 1952 for the NAACP in Jackson, Miss. From his home in Jackson, Evers travelled Mississippi to encourage voter registration and working to enforce federally-mandated integration laws. On June 12, 1963, hours after President John F. Kennedy gave a televised speech condemning segregation, Evers was shot in the back and killed by a high-powered rifle after returning home. He crawled to the house and collapsed in front of his wife and three children; he died an hour later.

The rifle found at the scene belonged to Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the all-white Citizens' Council, a statewide group opposed to racial integratio. Beckwith was tried twice, but both trials ended with a hung jury, and he was released. Almost 30 years later, thanks to the persistence of Evers's widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the case was reopened, and Beckwith was tried and convicted in 1994 (the conviction was upheld by the state supreme court in 1997).


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