It was on this day in 1963 that civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. He was the Field Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and traveled widely in support of voting rights and school integration for African Americans. He was just 37 years old.
Medgar Evers was a star athlete in high school and served in the U.S. Army, participating in the Allied Invasion in Europe. When he came back to the U.S. and began his career as an activist, he immediately encountered pushback and racism; in 1961, when he applauded a courtroom defendant in a sit-down proceeding, policemen beat him over the head with a revolver. He was undeterred. He said: “If I die, it will be in a good cause. I’ve been fighting for America just as much as the soldiers in Vietnam.”
A Ku Klux Klan member named Byron De La Beckwith murdered Evers, shooting him at close range in the back with a rifle. When Evers was rushed to a hospital, he was initially refused care because he was black. De La Beckwith was apprehended and tried, but two trials ended in hung juries. Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Shortly after his death, singer Nina Simone wrote and recorded the song “Mississippi Goddam,” with its famous lines, “You don’t have to live next to me / Just give me equality!” The song became an anthem of the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.
In 1994, at the age of 74, Byron De La Beckwith was finally found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Medgar Evers. The jury was made up of eight blacks and four whites. He died in prison.
Medgar Evers said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”