Medgar Evers: A Life of Courage

Freedom has never been free…I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them.” – Medgar Evers

Portrait of Medgar Evers, looking forward towards the camera, dressed in a suit and tie.
Medgar Evers, 1963

Medgar Evers was a leader who didn’t care for fame or money. The “quiet integrationist” he was called. He wanted to make a difference and improve life for others. As his wife described him, he is sensitive “to other human beings; their needs, hopes, joys, and aspirations…Perhaps most important, Medgar was able to turn hate into love.”

As a child, Medgar was studious, shy, and “the conscience of his friends.” Among the qualities and experiences he took from his parents, it was their outspoken nature, especially regarding their convictions, that Medgar adopted.

At 18, Medgar joined the U.S. Army and fought from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. After the war, he went to college and then started a family. But it was his work for the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s that became his calling. As the Field Secretary for the organization in Mississippi, he helped organize boycotts and set up local NAACP chapters.

One of Medgar’s struggles was living daily with fear. He was afraid for his life because of his position in the movement. As his wife recalled,

“We lived with that fear day in and day out. We learned to deal with the threatening telephone calls. We lived with the cars that circled our home late at night. We lived with the rocks and debris thrown at us. We talked about the possibility of death many times.”

Medgar would admit to being afraid but then say, “I can’t let that stop me from doing what I must.”

These fears, however, were very real. In 1963, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home. Shortly after, someone tried to run Medgar over. Then, in the early morning of Wednesday, June 12, 1963, when Medgar returned home after a usual long day from work, wearing a T-shirt that read, “Jim Crow Must Go,” he was shot in the back. He died about an hour later.

It would take 30 years for the man who committed the murder to be found guilty and sent to prison for life.

Note:

Click here to read a snapshot biography of civil rights movement leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sources:

  • Elliot, Jeffrey, and Medgar Evers. “MEDGAR EVERS a Personal Portrait.” Negro History Bulletin, vol. 40, no. 6, 1977, pp. 760–63. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44176405. Accessed 1 May 2024.
  • Medgar Evers, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right, wearing jacket and tie. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/93516441/>.
  • St. Lawrence, Genevieve. Medgar Evers. United States, Raintree, 2004.
  • Tisdale, John Rochelle, 1958-. Medgar Evers (1925-1963) and the Mississippi Press, dissertation, December 1996; Denton, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc278976/: accessed May 1, 2024), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu;