Which renown civil rights leader had an office in the M.W. Stringer Grand Lodge (Masonic Temple) at 1072 John R. Lynch Street and had a funeral in the same Masonic Temple in 1963? That would be none other than (B.) Medgar Wiley Evers.
As the first Field Secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi, Evers had an office right here in West Jackson on John R. Lynch Street. The headquarters for the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP is still located within this building.
The drawing above and the narrative below are provided courtesy of local artist/architect, Jeffrey Yentz.
Located in the county seat of Newton is the town of Decatur, MS. The town
is and has been pretty much one square mile in size (all of it land). Back
in 1925, James and Jessie Evers lived on a farm just outside the town’s
limit. This is where, on July second that Medgar Wiley Evers was born …
becoming the couple’s third child. Over the next few years the family would
grow to five siblings.
Although school was several miles from the farm and the only mode of
transportation available to young Medgar was walking, this is what he did,
day in and day out. Persevered he did and Medgar successfully completed
high school. On the cusp of receiving his diploma, he and his older brother
Charles were inducted into the army. During World War II, he fought first
in France and then in the European Theatre until being honorably discharged
in 1945 with the rank of Sergeant.
The following year Medgar, Charles, and four friends returned to Decatur.
After a couple of years at home, Medgar enrolled at Alcorn College in
Lorman, MS majoring in business administration. The 150 mile separation
between Lorman and Decatur meant not a lot of time was spent visiting home.
So in his “spare” time Medgar was on the debate team, played football, ran
track, and sang in the school choir. Oh (possibly in lieu of sleeping) he
was voted Junior Class President and he married classmate Myrlie Beasley on
24 December 1951!
Located in Bolivar County is Mound Bayou. Founded in 1887 the city is best
known as an independent African-American community founded by former slaves (led by Isaiah Montgomery). Similar to Decatur in that it’s size is no more then one square mile (all of it land).
Upon graduating from Alcorn College with a BA degree, the couple moved to
Mound Bayou where Medgar began his professional career selling insurance for Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. The founder of Magnolia, T.R.M. Howard was also president of RCNL (Regional Council of Negro Leadership) and it was he whom mentored Medgar on the organization’s precepts of civil rights and pro self-help.
Through his increasing interest and involvement in the RCNL, Medgar became more involved as well as receiving training in activism. This commitment led to him helping to organize a boycott of service stations that denied African-Americans restroom access. Then, in February 1954, he applied to the University of Mississippi Law School. Predictably, the application was rejected because Universities were all segregated. However, serious with the desire to attend law school, Medgar filed a lawsuit. While the suit fell of deaf legal “ears” his effort did receive the NAACP’s attention and
they began a campaign to desegregate the school.
Because of his participation in the RCNL and the courageous lawsuit the
NAACP’s national office suggested Medgar become Mississippi’s first NAACP
field secretary and on 24 November 1954 he was so appointed. With this new
opportunity Medgar and his family relocated to Jackson.
Medgar began his new role traveling throughout Mississippi recruiting new
NAACP members. Once the membership drives were underway, Medgar then began organizing voter-registration efforts, demonstrations, and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination. He also diligently worked to investigate crimes perpetrated against African-Americans. The most challenging and controversial of which was the case where 14 year-old Emmit Till was handed because he had allegedly talked to a white woman.
His role as field secretary put Medgar in the spotlight and into one of the
most visible civil rights leaders in the state. The price that notoriety
cost was he and his family receiving numerous threats and violent actions
over the years. Nevertheless, his family stood by him and Medgar spoke
constantly of the need to overcome hatred as well as to promote
understanding and equality between the races. Suffice it to say, this
message was not one that all citizens of Mississippi were keen on hearing.
[NOTE: The University of Mississippi segregation formally ended in 1962
with the enrollment of James Meredith. This decision resulted in a massive
campus riot resulting in two deaths. After the riot, Medgar became involved
in the follow-up investigation which brought about white supremacists’
hatred and death threats against him.]
+ May 28 a Molotov cocktail was thrown into Medgar’s carport
+ June 7 a car nearly ran down Medgar as he was leaving the Jackson
+ June 12 upon returning home from a meeting with NAACP lawyers Medgar
was shot in the back in his driveway. He staggered several feet before
collapsing. He was pronounced dead fifty minutes later at a local hospital.
+ June 19 buried in Arlington national Cemetery where he received full
+ June 23 Byron De La Beckwith, a Ku Klux Klan member was arrested for
the murder of Medgar Evers.
+ that year An all white male jury, were twice (1964) deadlocked
on De La Beckwith’s guilt.
+ June 28 City of Jackson erected a statue in honor of Evers
+ Feb 5 De La Beckwith (based on new evidence) was again
brought to trial.
+ Feb 15 De La Beckwith was convicted of murder and given a life
+ De La Beckwith died in prison at the age of 80
+ Dec 15 Jackson City Council changed airport’s name to Jackson-Evers
+ October Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced the naming of the USNS
Medgar Evers (a Lewis and Clark – class dry cargo ship).
[NOTE: Medgar’s widow, Myrlie, became a noted activist eventually serving
as NAACP chair. His brother Charles returned to Jackson in 1963 and briefly
served in his brother’s place and then continued to remain involved in
Mississippi civil rights activities.]
I hope you enjoy the drawing as well as the narrative.