Medgar Evers knew his life was on the line when he accepted the position of Mississippi state field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Myrlie, his wife, was well aware of this. Evers, who was born in Decatur, Mississippi on July 2, 1925, served in the United States Army and was a World War II veteran.
He is well-known for playing a key part in overturning a segregation law at the University of Mississippi that allowed only White students to enroll. He organized boycotts of downtown companies that discriminated against Black people and pushed for Black people’s equal rights. White racists targeted him as a result of this.
Due to the repeated death threats made against Evers and his family by White nationalists and KKK members, Evers was guarded and escorted by the FBI and police at one point. The civil rights icon was shot and assassinated in front of his home on June 12, 1963. For the first time, Byron De La Beckwith, a White nationalist, was charged with the murder. He was prosecuted twice in 1964, but due to an all-white jury in both trials, he was not sentenced for the heinous murder.
The case was reopened in 1994, and he was tried again based on new evidence. After 31 years, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the murder. And it was all thanks to Evers’ widow, Myrlie, who never gave up and worked tirelessly to see that her husband received justice.
“I’m going to make whomever did this pay,” Myrlie swore herself in the days following her husband’s murder, according to a New York Times reporter. That’s exactly what she did.
Myrlie, then in her 30s, went to California with her children Darrell, Reena, and James when her husband’s killer Beckwith was freed following the first two trials. She started a career in fund-raising and public relations there before marrying Walter Williams, a labor leader. However, whenever she returned to Mississippi, where her husband was murdered, she found new ways to reopen the case by inquiring about Beckwith’s whereabouts, according to The New York Times.
“After a while, people began to say, ‘Myrlie, you’re living in the past.’ ‘Just let it go.’ But it was difficult to let go because no one had been found guilty,” Myrlie told The New York Times.
According to History, she spoke with Jerry Mitchell, a newspaper writer, in 1989, who informed her he had discovered records belonging to the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a governmental organization that surreptitiously investigated and intimidated civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s. In Beckwith’s second trial, the documents revealed suspected jury tampering and official involvement.
Myrlie was able to persuade prosecutors to revisit the case as a result of this. The case was revived despite a missing murder weapon, a case file that was only three pages long, and legal doubt over whether Beckwith could be tried again after so many years. Prosecutors were able to locate new witnesses. “Killing that nigger didn’t bring me any more anguish than our wives feel when they produce a baby,” Beckwith allegedly told a KKK meeting.
The police officers who had offered Beckwith’s alibi were again questioned by Mitchell, the newspaper reporter, but they cited different times than they had years previously, according to History. Beckwith stood for his third trial in 1994, wearing a Confederate flag pin to court every day. Beckwith was found guilty in February 1994, 31 years after the assassination of Evers, and sentenced to life in prison.
During the first trial in 1964, Myrlie came face to face with Beckwith, saying that “he had this sneer on his face.”
“While I was testifying, the Governor, Ross Barnett, stepped in and paused to look at me, then turned and walked over to Beckwith, shook his hand, slapped him on the shoulder, and sat down next to him.” In the first trial, he was sending a clear signal to the jurors that this individual would be acquitted,” Myrlie explained.
In the 1994 trial, things were different, including the fact that the jury was more racially diverse. When the guilty verdict was read, Myrlie sobbed before jumping with delight. Myrlie subsequently explained, “I didn’t realize how deeply entrenched this need to clear everything up was.” “Every pore was wide open when it was over, and the demons had left.” “When that jury said, ‘Guilty!’ I was reborn!”
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