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”Medgar Taught Me” Tee
Medgar Evers was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi, the third of the five children (including elder brother Charles Evers) of Jesse (Wright) and James Evers. The family included Jesse's two children from a previous marriage. The Evers family owned a small farm and James also worked at a sawmill. Evers walked twelve miles to attend segregated schools, eventually earning his high school diploma.
Evers served in the United States Army during World War II from 1943 to 1945. He was sent to the European Theater where he fought in the Battle of Normandy in June 1944. After the end of the war, Evers was honorably discharged as a sergeant.
In 1948, Evers enrolled at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (a historically black college, now Alcorn State University) majoring in business administration. He also competed on the debate, football, and track teams, sang in the choir, and was junior class president. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1952.
On December 24, 1951, he married classmate Myrlie Beasley. Together they had three children: Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke Evers.
The couple moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, a town developed by African Americans, where Evers became a salesman for T. R. M. Howard's Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Evers was also president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), which began to organize actions for civil rights; Evers helped organize the RCNL's boycott of gasoline stations that denied blacks the use of the stations' restrooms. Evers and his brother Charles also attended the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1954, which drew crowds of ten thousand or more.
In 1954, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Evers applied to the state-supported University of Mississippi Law School, but his application was rejected because of his race. He submitted his application as part of a test case by the NAACP.
On November 24, 1954, Evers was named as the NAACP's first field secretary for Mississippi. In this position, he helped organize boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP. He was involved with James Meredith's efforts to enroll in the University of Mississippi in the early 1960s.
Evers also encouraged Dr. Gilbert Mason Sr. in his organizing of the Biloxi wade-ins from 1959 to 1963, protests against segregation of the city's public beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Evers conducted actions to help integrate Jackson's privately owned buses and tried to integrate the public parks. He led voter registration drives, and used boycotts to integrate Leake County schools and the Mississippi State Fair.
Evers's civil rights leadership, along with his investigative work, made him a target of white supremacists. Following the Brown v. Board of Educationdecision, local whites founded the White Citizens' Council in Mississippi, and numerous local chapters were started, to resist the integration of schools and facilities. In the weeks before Evers was killed, he encountered new levels of hostility. His public investigations into the 1955 lynching of teenager Emmett Till, and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard, had made him a prominent black leader. On May 28, 1963, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home. On June 7, 1963, Evers was nearly run down by a car after he came out of the NAACP office in Jackson, Mississippi.
Medgar Evers was shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963. He died less than a hour later at a nearby hospital.
Evers was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and the NAACP posthumously awarded him its 1963 Spingarn Medal. The national outrage over Evers's murder increased support for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In February 1994, nearly 31 years after Evers's death, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died in January 2001 at the age of 80.