The Mississippi home of civil rights leaders Medgar and Myrlie Evers became a national monument Tuesday, as part of a sweeping, bipartisan public lands bill signed by Donald Trump.
Medgar Evers, a World War II veteran who became the Mississippi NAACP’s first field secretary in 1954 was at the foreground of the Civil Rights Movement, leading voter registration drives and boycotts in the Deep South; he was also instrumental in desegregating the University of Mississippi. On June 12, 1963, he was assassinated in the driveway of his Jackson, Miss., home by white supremacist and Klansman Byron De La Beckwith.
At the time of his murder, Evers was vocal about his investigations into the murder of Emmett Till and was ramping up demonstration efforts in Jackson, according to the NAACP. He endured death threats; in the weeks before his killing, attackers threw a Molotov cocktail into his home and nearly ran him down with a car.
Years after Evers’ murder, his wife, Myrlie, took on her slain husband’s mantle, becoming the national chairwoman of the NAACP in 1995 and serving in that role for the next three years.
According to the Clarion Ledger, the federal government will take over the three-bedroom, ranch-style home from Tougaloo College, a historically black institution that has maintained the Evers home since 1993, when the property was donated to the school by the Evers family. The home was designated a national historic landmark in 2016 and is open by appointment for tours.
Medgar Evers served as a mentor for Tougaloo students, who participated in civil rights demonstrations in Jackson. One of his mentees, Minnie White Watson, has served as the curator of the Medgar Evers House Museum since 1997. She told WBUR she’s “pleased” the home has been designated a national monument.
“[The National Park Service] can afford to do things that possibly we could never afford to do,” such as putting in a parking lot and bathrooms, Watson told the radio show Here & Now.
“Medgar was very forceful in what he was doing and what he was saying,” Watson said. “Sure, you were risking your life, but you think about it, when I think about it, if you were not considered quote-unquote free, then it wasn’t your life anyway.
“You were born here in this country, so you had the right to whatever this country had to offer,” she said, describing his philosophy. “So he was saying simply ask for it, and then if they didn’t give it to you, take it.”
The Emmett Till Memorial Commission also voiced support for the national monument designation, thanking the Mississippi Congressional delegation and the White House for signing the bill, the Jackson Free Press reports.
But they noted there was more work to be done in properly acknowledging and reifying America’s long and ongoing fight for racial justice, particularly its recognition of another highly publicized murder in Mississippi.
“We are happy for Myrlie Evers Williams and the Evers family that the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home has received this long overdue recognition as a National Monument today,” said Wheeler Parker, Emmett Till’s cousin, in a statement released earlier this week.
“Our two families have been forever linked by tragedy, but also by shared struggle and hope in the ongoing cause of racial justice,” he added. “We know that our nation’s official recognition of that cause will be incomplete without making our beloved Emmett and his mother, Mamie, part of this story, as well. We ask that our government take action on the Till historic sites so that everyone may learn about Emmett and the legacy he has left for all of us.”