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February 14, 1997 - Issue Index

Chair of NAACP board to speak Monday
By Luis Mocete (February 14, 1997)

Myrlie Evers-Williams, chair of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP, will lecture February 17 in connection with Black History Month.

Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, will speak at 7 p.m. in von der Mehden Recital Hall.

"For many women in this country, particularly African-American women, she serves as a role model," said Ronald Taylor, director of the Institute for African-American Studies. "She has succeeded in doing something that a woman has not done before, and that is leading this nations oldest civil-rights organization."

Myrlie met Medgar while they were students at Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Miss. They eventually married and moved to Mound Bayou, Miss., where they embarked on business careers with Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Co. Business responsibilities made them travel, and they witnessed the burden of poverty and injustice imposed on blacks. Determined to make positive changes, both Medgar and Myrlie opened and managed the first NAACP Mississippi state office. They lived under constant threats as they worked for voting rights, economic stability, fair housing, equal justice and dignity.

On June 12, 1963, the threats became a reality. Myrlie and her three young children witnessed the murder of Medgar at the front door of their home.

After two trials ended in hung juries, Evers-Williams moved her family to Claremont, Calif., in July 1964. Although she left Mississippi, she never gave up the fight to bring to justice Medgars murderer. At a third trial in 1994, Byron de la Beckwith was tried again and was found guilty.

Seventeen years before Beckwith was convicted, Evers-Williams wrote her first book, For Us, The Living, depicting the life of Medgar and the civil-rights struggle in Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s. In 1996, Columbia Pictures released Ghosts of Mississippi, which recounts the 1994 retrial of Beckwith for the murder of Medgar.

"She has always been an independent person," Taylor said. "That is certainly demonstrated by what she went on to do after Medgar's death. She has always been ambitious in wanting to make a difference. She has embraced Medgar and she has sought to articulate more clearly what he was attempting to do and what he probably would have done had he lived."

Evers-Williams was elected chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People board in February 1995 on her third attempt.

"There was a statement in one of the accounts I read where she said, 'Her husband died for the NAACP,'" Taylor says. "And what she sought to do is live for it, and therefore, to aspire to the highest position in that organization. So in a sense what she's done is kind of a living memorial to her husband."

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