Medgar Evers: Legacy Challenged

Fifty years after the activist's death, landmark policies that he championed may be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Medgar Evers (YouTube)

“We pledge that we will never forget the man, the foundation that he laid, nor his broad shoulders that made possible the election of the first African-American president and the selection of the first African-American attorney general,” Holder said.

Evers was 37 when he was fatally shot by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith on June 12, 1963. De La Beckwith was convicted of the murder in 1994, 30 years after two all-white juries deadlocked in previous trials.

Evers’ death drew national attention and acted as a catalyst for the civil 
rights movement. It added urgency to the televised address given by President John F. Kennedy, who just a day earlier had called racial discrimination a “moral crisis” and announced his plan to send Congress a 
desegregation bill.

A year later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning 
discrimination in employment and public accommodations. The Voting Rights 
Act passed in 1965 and is widely regarded as the most effective civil
 rights law in U.S. history.

“The next time you hear people complaining around Washington about what a 
rough business democracy is, we might do well to remember what it was like
 50 years ago and the sacrifices that were made,” former President Bill
 Clinton said at the Arlington ceremony.

In Evers’ home state on Wednesday, a service will be held at the Mississippi Museum of Art. A party to raise money for the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute is scheduled for that evening in Jackson. On Thursday a statue of Evers will be dedicated at his alma mater, Alcorn State University, in Lorman, Miss.

Meanwhile, several civil rights and political groups are working on reaction plans and mobilizing supporters for demonstrations ahead of the Supreme Court decisions.

In Alabama on Friday, state leaders and others, such as Minister Louis 
Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, will lead a caravan in support of voting rights through the state’s civil rights landmarks. Stops will include the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma; and Shelby County, where plaintiffs filed the lawsuit challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.