Her Thanks are Mixed with Memories

March 16, 2019
Image of a framed black and white photograph of the Evers family.

Mississippi Center For Investigative Reporting
By Jerry Mitchell

Myrlie Evers expressed thanks that her family’s home is becoming a national monument.

Her gratitude mixed with memories. “It will always be the home that Medgar Evers and I lived, loved and reared our children in until he was shot in the back of the driveway of our home because he fought for his beliefs of justice and equality for all citizens of the United States of America,” said the widow of Medgar Evers, who turns 86 Sunday.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed the legislation, creating the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument.

In World War II, Medgar Evers fought the Nazis on the beaches of Normandy, only to return home and fight racism all over again in the form of Jim Crow that barred African Americans from restaurants, restrooms and voting booths.

A graduate of Alcorn University, he was turned away in January 1954 when he attempted to become the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi’s law school.

Before the year ended, the NAACP hired him as the first field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP.

He put about 40,000 miles a year on his Oldsmobile, traveling the roads of the state, recruiting NAACP members and investigating killings, beatings and other mistreatment of black Mississippians.

On the night of June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered his first civil rights speech to the nation.

Myrlie Evers and her three children, Darrell, Reena and Van, stayed up to watch Kennedy’s speech on their black-and-white television in their bedroom.

Each time Myrlie Evers visits the family home, “memories of the night come flooding back into my entire being,” she said.

Just after midnight, she said she heard her husband pull into the driveway, close his car door and then something unforgettable — “this loud shattering sound of gunfire.”

She rushed to the carport door, opened it and saw her husband struggling, covered in blood.

She screamed, and so did her children.

“That nightmare is still there,” she recalled. “All of those memories are as vivid to me today, all these years later.

“In remembering that nightmare, I find myself very frightened today about our democracy and where we are going.”

She hopes and prays that work will continue “to correct the wrongs that are still being perpetrated and to rid ourselves of the lies told about who we are, what we are and where we should be,” she said.

“I see a ray of hope with the young people of this country that my husband fought for.”

In 1994, Myrlie Evers finally saw justice for her husband’s killer, who went to prison, where he died.

A year later, she won a close vote to chair the national NAACP, which was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

She helped turn the civil rights organization around financially before turning the leadership over three years later to civil rights pioneer Julian Bond.

Although she is now retired, she is far from silent.

“I will continue to fight for justice and equality as long I have breath to breathe,” she said. “I shudder at the thought of where America is today in race relations and other areas, but I do believe there is a spirit that rises in us, that is much larger than us.”

A quarter-century ago, the family donated their home to Tougaloo College, which has a small museum inside and gives tours to several thousand visitors a year.

Now, the National Park Service, which named the home a national historic landmark a few years ago, will take over renovations and other needs. Myrlie Evers praised Mississippi’s congressional delegation, which pushed for the home’s recognition, and to Tougaloo’s leaders for “protecting and caring for our home, which my children and I gladly turned over to them for their care and nurturing.”

She is pleased her family’s home will be kept “as a living monument” to her late husband, who was determined to see that “America kept its promise to all its citizens,” she said. “I hope thousands and thousands of people will be touched by his work for justice, equality and freedom.”

She still thinks about her husband’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, where then-NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins declared, “Medgar Evers believed in his country. It remains to be seen if his country believes in him.”

She sees a “crucial turning point in our democracy today,” she said. “It remains to be seen if the values that Medgar Evers fought and died for will continue to be a guiding light for this country, a man who believed in justice and peace for all.”

This story was produced by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that seeks to hold public officials accountable and empower citizens in their communities.

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