Document 64743

Myrlie Evers Remembers:
Widow of Medgar Evers recalls life with martyr, reflects on career, children, second husband
Bv Marilvn Marshall
tive in various civic and
political groups.
Mrs. Evers, who still
uses her late husband s
ers' world was shattered.
last name out of respect
The wife of NAACP Misfor him, also has a new
sissippi field secretary
career. Formerlv' conMedgar E v e r s , she
sumer affairs director for
watched in horror as her
the Atlantic Richfield
37-\ear-okl husband la\
Co., last June she was
bleeding on the doorstep
appointed one of the comof their Jackson, Miss.,
missioners of Los Auhome, the victim ofa gungele.s" powerful Board of
shot wound to the back.
Pxilîiic \\ orks, and is the
A man who constanth
Black woman to hold
lived with the threat of
the position.
danger. Evers was
ambushed after returning
Though she is pleased
from an NAACF meeting
\\ith the way things
around 12:30 a.m. Mrs.
turned out, she still bears
Evers v\-as the first to rush
the emotional scars of her
to his side, and wu.s folhusband s assassination.
lowed by their three
including the fact that the
>• o u n g ch i 1 d r e n wh o
White man arrested for
pleaded, "Please Dadd\',
the crime, Bvron de la
please get upl Near the
Beckwith. wa.s eventual!)'
wounded ci\ il rights leadfreed after two trials held
er was a bundle he had
in Mississippi resulted in
dropped containing Thung juries. No one else
shirts that read. "Jim
was ever charged vvith the
Now a commissioner ol tin.- Board of Public Works in Lo.s .A.ngelfs, Myrlit- Evers
Crow Must Go."
has achieved personal and professional fulfillment in California since the shocking
She says it s hard to beFifty minutes after he
lie\ e 25 \ ears have passed
was shot, Medgar Evers
since the tragedy. "No. it doesn't seem
died at the Uni\ersity of Mississippi
that long," she says. "For one thing,
Hospital. Blacks across the country
Medgar is with me constantly. Not a
wert' shocked and angered b\' the killda\ passes when I don t think about
ing, which occurred at the height of the
him. or something he said or did."
Ci\ il Rights Movement.
Mrs, E\ers, 05. has been in and out
Devastated b\ her husband s murof the spotlight since her husband's
der. Mrs. Evers. then 30. began the
death. After lea\ ing tbe South she enslow, painful process of putting her life
rolled at Pomona College in Claremont
back together, Now. 25 > ears later, she
and earned a bachelor's degree in
has finalK- come through her tragedy.
sociology in 1968. For the next two
A >ear after her husband s death, she
years she was assistant director of
and her children mo\ ed to Claremont,
planning and development for the
Calif., and for the past nine years she
Claremont College system, and while
has li\ed in Los Angeles. She has rethere became a contributing editor for
married, her children are grown, and
a women's magazine until 1974. .^fter
she is the grandmother of three. She
serving as vice president of an advertisremains socially conscious, and is acURING the early
morning hours of
June 12. 1963." Myrlie Ev-
EBONY • June, 1988
Continued on Page 110
Visits to the field a n i^dm
mini for Mrs. K\frs. and
above the fo in m is s i on er
checks on a profiling operation in which amillint;
machine removes asphalt from the road bed
prior to resuHacing. .\i
right she appears with
Mayor Tom Bratlle\ during the aniiduntement of
a city flean-iip program.
(The mayor donned a
street maintenance uniform for the occasion).
Below she is shown with
fellow commis.sioners
Dennis Nishikawa, Edward .\vila, Kathleen
Brown and Steve Harrington.
ing firm for two years, she joined
Atlantic Richfield in 1975.
In the meantime, she strived to keep
her slain husband's memory and
dreams alive. She wrote a book, ForUs
The Living, which chronicled their
lives. Published in 1967, it was the subject of a 1983 made-for-T\' movie starring Howard Rollins and Irene Cara.
Long a believer in Black political power, Mrs. Evers made two unsuccessfiil
bids for public office: one for Congress
in 1970 and one for the L. A. City Council in 1987.
She received another chance to become involved in local government
when she became Los Angeles Mayor
Tom Bradley s appointee to the fivemember Board of Public Works, the
city s only full-time paid commission.
In charge of one of the largest city departments (5,000 employes), the commission awards contracts for millions
of dollars in improvements, and is
responsible for such services as waste
disposal and street maintenance.
The job keeps Mrs. Evers on the go.
She often works 10-hour days, and will
meet with staffers or local officials one
minute and visit a water treatment
plant the next. Once she leaves her
City Hall office, there is usually a community meeting or event to attend,
At home, she looks forward to
spending time with her husband of 11
years, Walter Williams, a retired
longshoreman. Mrs. Evers, who says
she has been "blessed twice" in both of
her marriages, says she admires her
second husband for his ability to handle the pressure of being married to
the widow of a martyr. "That's why my
hat goes off to Walter, ' she says. "He's
a very strong man who has been very
involved in the civil rights struggle
here, so he had a great deal of respect
and admiration for Medgar. '
Her children all live in Los Angeles.
Darrell, 34, is a graphic artist and father of a son, Kynan, Reena EversEverette, 33, is an instructor with an
airline and has two children, Daniel
and Cambi. James, a 28-year-old
photographer (who took the color
photos for this article), is single.
"My children turned out to be wonderfully strong and loving adults," she
says proudly, "It has taken time to heal
the wounds [from their father's assassination] and I'm not really sure all the
wounds are healed. We still hurt, but
we can talk about it now and cr>' about
it openly with each other, and the
bitterness and anger have gone.
An eloquent, gracious woman with a
\''' • June, 1988
Continued on Page I M
Mrs. Evers and hBr second husband, \\ alter \\ illiam.s. h;n e been married 11 years, and slie says he is an extremely supportive spouse. She is very close to her
Lliildren ^\. to r, i. Dairell. Reena (who is expecting their third child) and James.
warm smile, Mrs. E\ers has always
talked candidly about the anguish she
feltafterher husband s death, and how
her bitterness e\ en "kept me going ' for
awhile. In a 1965 EBONY cover story
she wrote titled "'Why I Left Níississippi," she said that, after moving to
predominantly White Clareniont, "I
had to remember m\" old feeling of hate
in Mississippi, and how even.' now and
then it reared its head."
She no longer has that feeling of
hate, and whenever she returns to
Mississippi, she is pleased to see that
the segregation and discrimination
that once existed there have diminished. She says one da\, she may
even return there to live.
ORN Myrlie Beasley in Vicksburg,
Miss., Mrs. Evers says she lived a
'sheltered life." Her parents were divorced when she was a child, and she
was reared by her grandmother, Annie
McCain Beasley, and an aunt, Myrlie
Beasley Polk. Now deceased, both
were teachers.
Musically talented, she enrolled at
Alcorn A&M in 1950 as an education
major and a music minor. On her first
da\' on campus she met fellow-student
Medgar Evers, a member ofthe football team and a \vise and w^orldly
Army veteran. She recalls that, "He
was strong, responsible and someone
you could count on," she says. They
were married on Christmas Eve in
Mrs. Evers left school before
graduating while her husband finished
Alcorn in 1952. After a stint as an insurance salesman, he became active in
the NAACP, and was appointed field
secretary' in 1954. He established a
state office in Jackson, and his wife
became his secretary.
She says that from the beginning.
they were aware of the dangers.
Threatening phone calls were common, the family stayed away from windows at night, and Evers taught his
children to fall to the floor whenever
the\ heard a strange noise outside. A
few weeks before his death, a firebomb
was thrown at the family's home, and
Mrs. Evers put out the flames with a
garden hose.
"We lived with death as a constant
companion 24 hours a day," she recalls.
"Medgar knew what he was doing, and
he knew what the risks were. He just
decided that he had to do what he had
to do. But I knew at some point in time
he would be taken from nie." Though
she tried to prepare for an assault on
her husband, her plans went awry
when it actually happened. "It took the
longest time for our doctor to convince
n:ie that I could not have saved him if
only I had stuffed his chest cavity with
cloth [to stop the bleeding]."
EDGAR Riley Evers was born in
Decatur, Miss., in 1925. His father, James, operated a small farm and
worked part time in a sawmill, and his
mother, Jessie, worked as a domestic.
He walked 12 miles each da\- to attend high school in nearby Newton,
Miss, .\fter leaving high school he entered the Army, serving in World War
II. He returned to Mississippi to work.
In 1946, he and his brother, Charles,
and four other young Blacks dared to
register to vote. Whites in the area
threatened Evers' parents, and when
the brothers went to vote, they were
turned away by a crowd of 15 to 20
armed White men.
In 1948, Evers entered .\lcom A&M
College in Lorman, Miss., as a busi-
•- 114
ness administration major. He was a
member of the debate team, college
choir, the business club, football and
track teams, and editor ofthe campus
newspaper and yearbook.
After completing his studies and
working as an insurance salesman, he
began organizing chapters of the
NAACP. In 1954, he became the first
Black to appK- to the Universit\ of Mississippi but was denied admission. By
this time, he was the leading candidate
for the new job of state field secretary.
For the next nine years he was in the
forefront of the civil rights struggle in
the state, in areas such as voting rights
and the desegregation of educational
institutions and public facilities. Evers
knew all along his life was In danger.
and shortly before his murder, he
sensed death was near.
Immediately after his assassination
on June 12, 1963, Blacks in Jackson
held demonstrations protesting his
death. His fiuieral was held June 15,
with more than 4,000 people attending. He was buried in Arlington
National Cemetery on June 19. His
brother Charles replaced him as field
secretary, and later became mayor of
Eayette, Miss.
On June 23, a White fertilizer salesman, Byron de la Beckwith, was
charged with the ambush murder. He
stood trial twice in 1964, but neither
jury could agree on a verdict. He ran
for lieutenant governor of Mississippi
in 1967 and was defeated.
EBONY • June, 1988
Continued on Page 116
n Words
she has long put her fear of danger the credit or recognition that be debehind, although she did receive a serves for his work, and I find tbat
scare while running for City Council very, very unfortunate." She adds that
last year. During a candidates' forum, is one reason why she admires Coretta
she was approached by a man claiming Scott King. "I have tremendous reto be a relative of Byron de la Beck- spect for Mrs. King for devoting ber
with. He was apprehended and life to Martin's memory and what he
warned hy police to stay away from stood for," she says.
Mrs. Evers vi'ill always remember
her. Since no one was ever punished
for the crime, she says simply, "I do not her late husband as a "good and decent" man, and one who encouraged
feel justice was done."
Another of her concerns is the num- her to be strong. Sbe tbinks she
ber of people who have either forgot- heeded his words of encouragement.
ten or never knew about her husband's "My trials and tribulations bave made
life and death. "Medgar does not get me a much stronger person," she says.
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In an early family photo, M e d -
gar and Myrlie Evers visit a
Civil War battlefield in
V'icksburg, Miss., with
Reena and Darrell. She describes her late husband as
strong, determined, committed, gentle and caring."
Below, she consoles Darrell
during the slain civil rights
leader's funeral. Darrell was
nine when his father died,
Reena was eight, and James
was three.
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