Welcome to the Evolving Man Project’s “Evolved Man of the Week” profile. Each week we will highlight an individual that embodies what it means to be an evolved person, famous and non-famous individual alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to Civil Rights activist, Army veteran, and Mississippi native Medgar Evers.
Medgar Wiley Evers was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi, the third of 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 and his siblings walked 12 miles a day to attend segregated schools; eventually, Medgar earned 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.
Upon graduation from college in 1952, Evers moved to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he began working as an insurance salesman. He and his older brother, Charles Evers, also worked on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organizing local affiliates in Philadelphia.
Evers applied to the University of Mississippi Law School in February 1954. After being rejected, he volunteered to help the NAACP try to integrate the university with a lawsuit. Thurgood Marshall served as his attorney for this legal challenge to racial discrimination. While he failed to gain admission to the law school, Evers managed to raise his NAACP profile.
In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the famous Brown v. Board of Education case. This decision legally ended segregation of schools, though it took many years to be fully implemented.
Later in 1954, Evers became the first field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi and moved his family to Jackson. As state field secretary, Evers traveled around Mississippi extensively, recruiting new members for the NAACP and organizing voter-registration efforts. Evers also led demonstrations and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination.
As early as 1955, Evers activism made him the most visible civil rights leader in Mississippi. As a result, he and his family were subjected to numerous threats and violent actions over the years, including a firebombing of their house in May 1963. At 12:40 a.m. on June 12, 1963, Evers was shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson. He died less than an hour later at a nearby hospital.
Evers was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and the NAACP posthumously awarded him their 1963 Spingarn Medal. The national outrage over Evers’ murder increased support for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Immediately after Evers’ death, the NAACP appointed his brother Charles to his position. Charles Evers became a major political figure in the state; in 1969, he was elected the mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, becoming the first African-American mayor of a racially mixed Southern town since the Reconstruction.
Here is Medgar Evers in his own words:
“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”
Medgar Evers lost in life in the struggle for black liberation. He was a man who served his country only to return to racism and Jim Crow. A man who served his community and fought for racial justice. Medgar Evers is one of the early icons of the historic Civil Rights era. Today we honor Medgar Evers as our Evolved Man of the Week.