Medgar Evers

Soldier and Civil Rights Activist

"You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea." ~Medgar Evers or Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers, 1963

Born into a working-class Black family in Decatur, Mississippi, Medgar Evers attended segregated schools and witnessed a lynching the in the community where he grew up.

Evers was only fifteen when the United States entered World War II, but he enlisted as soon as he could. First, he dropped out of high school  at the age of 17 to help support his famiily. Just shy of his 18th birthday, in 1943, Evers volunteered to join the U.S. Army and was inducted at Camp Shelby. Evers served in a segregated port battalion in the Qurtermasters Corps, a common experience for Black soldiers who were routinely relegated to support units and kept out of combat battalions. 

With the rank of Technician Fifth Grade, Evers served in England and France, unloading goods such as weapons and vehicles from Allied ships and trasporting them via convos to soldiers on the front lines in Europe. Frustrated with the treatment of Black soldiers in the military, Evers resolved to fight for civil rights back home in Mississippi after the war.

His civil rights activism started almost immediately. In 1946, he and his older brother Charles, also a World War II veteran, brought a group of Black veterans to the Decatur, Mississippi, couthouse to register to vote and were met by threats of violence from armed white men. 

Evers focused next on his education, completing high school and then going on to attend Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, a historically Black land-grant college that had been founded in 1871 to educate the descants of formerly enslaved people in Mississippi. There, he met his wife, Myrlie Beasley. The couple settled in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Evers worked in the insurance industry. 

Shortly after the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Evers attempted to desegrate the University of Missippi's law school. Although he was unsuccessful, his attempt garnered attention from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which hired him to become the first state field secretary in Mississippi. He and his family moved to the state capital of Jackson where they both increased their involvement in the civil rights movement. 

As the field secretary for the NAACP, Evers organized demonstrations, boycotts, and voter-registration drives. He also helped to draw attention to violent incidents including the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. His activism drew negative attention from white supremacist groups, sometimes working in collusion with the state of Mississippi under the aegis of the Mississippi State Soverignty Commission. Despite numerous threats to his life, the state did not offer Evers protection.

After surviving a firebombing of his home in May 1963, Evers life came to an end when he was gunned down by a white supremacist terrorist, and former U.S. Marine who had also served during World War II, Byron De La Beckwith. 

Evers murder, at the age of 37, garnered national attention. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, and his wife, Myrlie Evers immediately began to advocate for the conviction of his murderer. Beckwith was initially acquitted by an all-white jury when two police officers gave testimony contradicting eye-witnesses who placed Beckwith at the murder scene. It was not until 1994 that a re-trial succeeded in convicting Beckwith after tireless advocacy by the Evers family and the Hids County assistant district attorney Bobby DeLaughter.

Both Evers and his wife, Myrlie, have been credited with the quote, "You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea." This notion lives on in Evers' legacy and the ongoing efforts to seek equal rights for Black Americans.