As field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi from 1954 until his death in 1963, Medgar Evers played a pivotal role in the civil rights organization’s expansion in the South. Although the NAACP leadership sought to challenge segregation in the courts, Evers’ interest in direct action methods led him to maintain contact with Martin Luther King and to briefly join the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.
The son of a farmer and domestic worker, Evers was born 2 July 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. As a child, Evers walked three miles to school each day and was an enthusiastic student who loved to read. In high school he began establishing NAACP branches throughout Mississippi. Drafted into the Army in 1943, Evers’ military experience with segregation in the service heightened his commitment to the civil rights struggle.
Upon graduating from Alcorn Agricultural & Mechanical College in 1952, Evers and his wife, Myrlie, moved to Mound Bayou in northwest Mississippi, where he worked for an insurance company and organized local NAACP chapters. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Evers sought admission to the University of Mississippi Law School. He was unsuccessful but would later help James Meredith gain admittance to “Ole Miss” by putting him in contact with NAACP lawyers.
In December 1954, Evers became the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi and soon afterward began receiving threatening phone calls and other types of harassment. Following the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in LeFlore County, Mississippi, Evers and other NAACP officials publicized the crime, sought witnesses, and helped witnesses leave Mississippi after testifying against Till’s murderers.
Seeking “to bring first-class citizenship to [the South] as hurriedly as possible,” Evers attended one of the first meetings of SCLC in February 1957 and was elected assistant secretary of the organization (Evers, 11 March 1957). When Evers notified NAACP director Roy Wilkins of his involvement with SCLC, Wilkins advised against participating in another civil rights group. Evers sent King his letter of resignation in August of that year, stating that he was “highly honored to have had the opportunity to serve” SCLC (Papers 4:259). King communicated his regret to Evers, writing: “I certainly appreciate your devotion to the cause of justice and if there is anything that I can do to assist you in your great work please feel free to call on me” (King, 28 August 1957).
In 1958, when SCLC sought to establish a base for activity in Jackson, Mississippi, Evers reported to NAACP officials that he “discouraged” this move. “It will be our design through the NAACP and the Progressive Voters League, of which our leaders are in key positions, to control the present state of affairs,” he explained (Evers, 24 January 1958).
In the spring of 1963, Evers announced that blacks in Jackson would begin mass demonstrations and rallies to protest Jackson Mayor Alan Thompson’s refusal to appoint a biracial committee to examine Jackson’s racial problems. “We are prepared to demonstrate until we get our rights!” Evers proclaimed. “Nobody here is afraid anymore” (“NAACP Moves on Jackson”).
On 12 June 1963, Evers was assassinated by a rifle shot in the back while walking up his driveway. That day King told the media: “The brutal murder of Medgar Evers came as shocking and tragic news to all people of good will” (King, 12 June 1963). Evers’ funeral was held in Jackson, and his burial at Arlington National Cemetery attracted prominent civil rights leaders from around the nation, including King and Wilkins. Evers was posthumously awarded the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, later in the year. In 1994 Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of Evers’ murder. Myrlie Evers continued her husband’s activism, serving as the NAACP’s first female chairperson from 1995 until 1998.
Evers, The Autobiography of Medgar Evers, ed. Evers-Williams and Marable, 2006.
Evers and Szanton, Have No Fear, 1997.
Evers to King, 20 August 1957, in Papers 4:259.
Evers to Ruby Hurley, 24 January 1958, NAACPP-DLC.
Evers to Wilkins, 11 March 1957, NAACPP-DLC.
Myrlie Evers, “He Said He Wouldn’t Mind Dying If …,” Life (28 June 1963): 35–36.
Hampton and Fayer, with Flynn, Voices of Freedom, 1990.
King, Press conference on the murder of Medgar Wiley Evers, 12 June 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.
King to Evers, 28 August 1957, DABCC.
“NAACP Moves on Jackson, Mississippi,” New York Amsterdam News, 1 June 1963.