50 years ago today, Medgar Evers, a NAACP field secretary, was shot in the back as he walked up his driveway in Jackson, Miss. Evers — a veteran of World War II — was considered one of the first civil rights fighters, spending his time at the NAACP working tirelessly to oppose laws that enforced segregation. His assassination, coming right after President John F. Kennedy’s historic speech on civil rights, shocked the nation.
Today his legacy is remembered across the nation half a century after his death. Last week an event was held at Evers' grave in Arlington, Va., where former-President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder gave speeches on Evers' legacy. Also in attendance was Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams.
In an interview with CBS News, Williams spoke about the life of her husband, recalling how the night before he was shot they sat down on the couch and discussed the possibility he wouldn’t survive the struggle for civil rights. “He made her promise that if anything happened to him, she would take care of their three young children. She also vowed that if he were killed, she would seek justice and keep his memory alive.” Latter the next day, as his family was up late after watching Kennedy address the nation on civil rights, Evers drove up after a longer than usual day out in the field. "And as soon as the children said, `There's daddy,' the shot rang out — one of the loudest and most powerful I had, and still have, ever heard. And I knew exactly what had happened," Williams told CBS.
Asked what her husband would think if he were still alive, his widow said, “I believe he would look at the landscape of this country and realize what so many of us have said: We have made progress but there's still so much to be done, and if we don't guard the progress we've made, that too will slip away.”
At the Guardian, Martha Bergmark takes up the call that as a nation we still have a ways to go to fulfill Evers' dreams, noting the extreme poverty minorities and poor people in his home state of Mississippi experience today. “But our work as a nation to achieve racial and economic justice is far from finished. It's not just that voting rights are once again under attack in many states, including Mississippi. More than that, de facto segregation and discrimination continue to threaten equal access to education, affordable housing, healthcare, financial services and the job market.”
Nicole Stockdale, writing at Dallas News, notes that Evers wasn’t even the first prominent civil rights activist to be assassinated, noting the many incidents that occurred in the '50s, such as the bombing of Harry T. Moore, executive director of the Florida NAACP. She also takes note of the struggle we face today but acknowledges the strides the country has made. “At the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery last week, Attorney General Eric Holder made poignant remarks about Evers’ legacy, [the work] Evers did helped lay the groundwork for Holder and President Barack Obama to hold the positions they do today. That helps put the debates we’re having today about the Civil Rights Act and affirmative action into perspective, as we wait for the Supreme Court to hand down major rulings on Shelby County v. Holder and Fisher v. UT in the coming days. Although I’ll be dismayed if either plaintiff comes away victorious, I still marvel that there’s even a credible case to be made. This does nothing to diminish the inequities that remain to be tackled, but the transformation in the U.S. truly is remarkable.”
Freeman Stevenson is a Snow College grad and is the DeseretNews.com opinion intern. Reach me at fstevenson@deseretdigital or @freemandesnews