Medgar Evers, 1925-1963, was one of the first martyrs of the civil rights movement in the United States. He worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and was the field secretary for his home state of Mississippi. During his lifetime the Mississippi in which he lived was a place of blatant discrimination where blacks dared not even speak of civil rights, much less actively campaign for them. But Evers dedicated his life to fighting this discrimination and hatred and in the end paid for his convictions with his life by becoming the first major civil rights leader to be assassinated in the 1960s. He was shot in the back on June 12, 1963 after he pulled into his driveway upon returning home late at night from a meeting. He was 37 years old.
In the early 1960s white supremacists in the deep South had a death list for civil rights activists and Evers was high on their list. He and his family endured numerous threats and other violent acts, making them well aware of the danger surrounding Evers because of his activism. Still he persisted in his efforts to integrate public facilities, schools, and restaurants. He organized voter registration drives and demonstrations. He spoke eloquently about the plight of his people and pleaded with the all-white government of Mississippi for some sort of progress in race relations. To those people who opposed such things, he was thought to be a very dangerous man. “We both knew he was going to die,” Myrlie Evers said of her husband in an interview in Esquire magazine. “Medgar didn’t want to be a martyr. But if he had to die to get us that far, he was willing to do it.”
The death of Medgar Evers was a milestone in the hard-fought integration war that rocked the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. While the assassination of such a prominent black figure foreshadowed the violence to come, it also spurred other civil rights leaders – themselves targets of white supremacists – to new fervor. They, in turn, were able to infuse their followers – both black and white – with a new and expanded sense of purpose, one that replaced apprehension with anger. Esquire contributor Maryanne Vollers wrote: “People who lived through those days will tell you that something shifted in their hearts after Medgar Evers died, something that put them beyond fear…. At that point a new motto was born: After Medgar, no more fear.”
Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was twice tried for the murder of Evers in 1964, but both trials ended in mistrials with all-white juries unable to reach a verdict. A third trial in 1994, before a jury of eight African-American and four white jurors, ended with Beckwith being convicted of first-degree murder. The conviction was based on new evidence proving that he had boasted of the murder at a Klan rally and to others over the three decades after the crime. Beckwith was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and died in 2001.
This is a photograph of Medgar Evers’ tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery. He served his country honorably in World War II, only to be assassinated in his homeland because of his activism on behalf of his fellow black Americans.
Camera: Canon Rebel XTi 400D
This photograph is “as is” from the camera, there was no post processing.