Myrlie Evers Williams Interview: Part II

Farai Chideya continues her discussion with Myrlie Evers Williams, the widow of the fallen NAACP field secretary Medgar Evars.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.

All this month, we've been examining the meaning of civil rights. We've also been looking at the people who define the struggle today and those who shaped the massive movement during the 1950s and 1960s.

One of those veterans is Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of the fallen NAACP's field secretary Medgar Evers. Earlier in the show, Mrs. Evers-Williams and I discussed the role that she and her husband played in the civil rights movement decades ago. She also told me how she feels her sacrifice has impacted people today.

Ms. MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS (Former Chairman, NAACP): In that period of time, who gave so much, who don't whine about the sacrifice, but we worked to see that those gains that were made during that time we hold on to them, and the sad thing is to see people who, of course, were not born during that time, but who have no interest, no understanding. If I can be specific, of using the N-word and not understanding that people died to have that changed from nigger to Negro to where we are today.

And if they had the historical understanding, I don't think it would be taken so lightly. It's the same thing where some of the other issues that we've seen recently in the sports field of calling of the divide between black men and black women. So it's okay to call us hos.

Now, it is not. It's about dignity. It's about respect. And if you don't have that respect for yourself, you can't expect that from anyone else.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mrs. Evers-Williams, you have so much passion and so much insight. Do you ever just say, you know what, these knuckleheads who don't understand anything about the struggle I've been through, why am I even trying?

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: No. Oh, no, I wouldn't dare. I wouldn't dare go there. I might become angry, and I do. Disappointed? Yes. But there are so many young people out there who do grasp but who are moving beyond this concept. I have it made, and I did it myself.

One of the things that made me so proud was to see the number of young people who turned out for the Jena Six march. And I said, yes.

CHIDEYA: Mrs. Evers-Williams, you have lived many lives. You became chair of the NAACP, breaking a gender barrier. You went through the trial that finally convicted your husband's killer after so many failed attempts and so many debates.

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: And you went on and got married again, have loved, have written books.

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: It's been a life of challenges. I have a lot of firsts that I can list, being the first woman to have the public works department in California, managing a billion-dollar budget, 7,000 employees.

Those things that I have done, not using Medgar's name or what-not, but preparing myself to be qualified to take those opportunities as they have come my way and to make them to something that I'm very proud of. And I hope in some way, there will be people who will check me out.

CHIDEYA: I'm sure they will.

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: And find out that I'm a very human person, prone to error, but I hope not too often. And it's been a good life. It has been a good life. It's been a difficult emotional life. But I'm blessed.

CHIDEYA: And you are anticipating your 75th birthday, taking care of yourself.

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: Yes, I am. I'm working.

CHIDEYA: And you're working for a postal stamp for your husband, a photo in the Mississippi Capitol, a book on your son. It's not as if you lack for big projects.

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: Well, I'm looking at retirement communities. But I like to laugh. I enjoy my six grandchildren. I just - I like living, and when it's time for me to make my transition, as I told my children, shed one tear and then have a big party and get on with your lives.

CHIDEYA: Myrlie Evers-Williams, it has been a great honor and delight.

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was Myrlie Evers-Williams, former chair of the NAACP and widow of the late civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

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