In June 1963, Medgar Wiley Evers was fatally shot at his home in Mississippi as he fought for civil rights in the South. This week, leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are remembering the 50th anniversary of the civil rights icon’s assassination while conveying the importance of continuing the work for which he gave his life.
“This anniversary calls for each one of us to lift up the legacy of a man who stood at the forefront of the civil rights battle,” said Phyllis Waller of Washington, Pennsylvania executive committee member of the NAACP. “Medgar Evers gave his life for the movement – that’s what he did.”
After multiple attempts on his life, Evers, a World War II veteran and field secretary for the Mississippi branch of the NAACP, was shot in the back at his home on June 12, 1963, while working to end Jim Crow laws in Jackson, Miss. His killer, Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith, spent 30 years as a free man because of multiple mistrials by all-white juries before eventually being convicted in 1994. He died in prison in 2001.
Waller said that while the violence against African-Americans endemic in the South during the civil rights movement is now rare, there are plenty of battles yet to be fought. She hoped that by remembering the civil rights struggles of the past, young people would be able think about the future.
“By building the next generation of the NAACP we are remembering and celebrating the life and legacy of one of our own, Medgar Evers,” Waller said. “This is a great opportunity to reconnect ourselves and reconnect our nation to the principles Medgar Evers lived and died to defend.”
The Washington branch of the NAACP is holding a membership drive through September.
“Many people in their 20s don’t keep up with what’s going on,” Waller said. “I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Waller said the organization is focused on creating equality for all Americans in the areas of economic sustainability, education, health, public safety, criminal justice and voting rights. Recent setbacks, like the Supreme Court ruling reversing portions of the Voting Rights Acts, emphasized the importance of the organization well into the 21st century.
“In regards to the Voting Rights Act, any American should be crying whether they’re 20 or 90,” Waller said. There are “so many cases of voter ID laws suppressing the vote, but (the Supreme Court) just shut it down. We’re going backward.”
“I would think everyone would get on board and want to be a member in order to continue the work of our forefathers,” Waller said.
Waller said membership in the group is open to everyone in the community, regardless of their race. She said the organization has a long history of working across racial divides. In order to help reach out into the community, the Washington branch will host a number of events, including Jackie Robinson Day during the Wild Things game Aug. 16.
“If you have 20 people fighting or 10,000 fighting, it makes a difference,” Waller said. “There’s something there for everyone. You might be very important for education, health, labor, industry – everyone should be able to fit in with something they believe in.”
For more information on joining the Washington NAACP, call 724-222-7820.