Unsung Civil Rights Hero: Myrlie Evers Williams During the Civil Rights Movement, Myrlie Evers Williams struggled, lost, and triumphed. Her husband, Medgar Evers, was shot dead by a white supremacist sniper in 1963. Farai Chideya talks with Evers Williams about the role she and her husband played in the Civil Rights Movement.
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Unsung Civil Rights Hero: Myrlie Evers Williams

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Unsung Civil Rights Hero: Myrlie Evers Williams

Unsung Civil Rights Hero: Myrlie Evers Williams

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Another person who struggled, fought and lost is Myrlie Evers Williams. Her husband Medgar Evers was shot dead by a white supremacist sniper in 1963. He died in front of her home and in front of their children. Medgar Evers was the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP. He put himself at constant risk as the investigator of violent racial crimes and a face for social justice.

But Myrlie Evers Williams also risked her life and went on after her husband's death. Among other accomplishments, she became an author and chaired the NAACP. She was the first woman to do so. We asked Mrs. Evers Williams why her husband joined the movement.

Ms. MYRLIE EVERS WILLIAMS (Author; Chairwoman, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People): He was so dedicated to rights for his people. If I may go back just a little, he served in World War II, came home to find that things were still as bad as they were, racially, when he left. And he said this will not be - this will not happen. Some changes have to be made. And I'm going to take it upon myself to do what I can to make those changes.

Little by little, he did. In college, he encouraged students, as well as faculty to register and to vote. He just did any number of things along with his job of selling insurance for the - how Southern does this get - Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company.


Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: And he was just an inspiration. He found ways in which people could better themselves. He challenged the system. I'm thinking of a project that he and Dr. T.R.M. Howard, who was a physician in Mound Bayou have started. And these were little placards that you put on your car. Don't buy gas where you can't use a restroom. And that was a really very bold thing to do then.

Medgar also was the first African-American to apply for admission to the University of Mississippi. People often think it was James Meredith. But Medgar helped James get in. But he was the first to apply. That was unheard of to take that kind of risk at that time. And, of course, he just rejected.

And it was right after that that he sought help from the NAACP because he wanted to file a suit that he hoped he could win and be admitted to law school there.

The NAACP took an interest in him and offered him the job as the first field secretary for the state of Mississippi.

I think, probably, the rest of it is history. He was extremely brave. I guess, perhaps, today, for those who were not of that time, it's hard to imagine how dangerous it was to question the Southern system. You just did not do that. You didn't attempt to register and vote. Because if you did, you knew you could lose your home. You certainly would lose your job. You were intimidated.

CHIDEYA: I do want to ask you how you dealt with the fear because in 1962, your house was fire bombed.

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm. How did I deal with it?

CHIDEYA: Yeah, how did you deal with it? How did you recover from it?

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: (Unintelligible).

CHIDEYA: How did - you know, what did you do?

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: It was great difficulty. My fear came, basically, out of the knowledge that you did not challenge that system without repercussions.

Medgar was the forebear to Dr. King and all those who have received so much publicity. But I knew at some point, as he did, and we talked about it, that since he was the point person, that he would be eliminated, we just didn't know when or how. I just (unintelligible).

CHIDEYA: Do you literally mean that you spoke about this, that one day, I probably will die, that your husband said to you?

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm. But we knew that. We knew that from the day he accepted the job with the NAACP because he was the sole spokesperson. He was the person out front. All the people were - it wasn't that they didn't believe, it wasn't that they didn't care, they were frightened half to death.

I mean, there were so many times when he would leave home, dressed in a manner that no one would barely recognize him, exchanging cars with others along the road. Just - we have this machine gun that was divided into three parts and three people had it never understood how we would get all the pieces together if we needed to.

But, I mean, you know, he had his German Luger, which he brought home from World War II. He knew firearms. And he was not about to not use it, if he's have a chance because the night he was killed, the gun was on the seat next to him.

CHIDEYA: No matter how much you talk about the possibility of him dying, you must have helped something completely new when he did. What did you feel and what did you do?

Ms. EVERS-WILLIAMS: Of course, I was concerned about Medgar. Of course, I was concerned about losing my husband. But we had three children, which meant that they were going to grew up without a father.

How would I explain it to them? How would I handle my tendency toward suicide? I did not want to live without him. But I had three the children that said, you must, because that was one of the last things he said to me, take care of my children. And I said, of course, I'm going to take care of them, they are mine, too.

And, you know, I think people tend to say, oh, well, that person is gone. Sure, there is sadness. But they don't think about the impact, the long-term impact that losing someone like that can have on you.

My children witnessed their father's death. My children to this day still remember that nightmare, and it has affected all of us. And it was only - oh, I guess, maybe eight years ago or so that we were able to sit down as a group of four and talk about all the pain.

My eldest son, who is now deceased, said to me, mom, yes, I was angry with you, he said, because my daddy told me to take care of you. You always took care of me and I resented that.

I mean, after all of those years, after all of that time when I became chairman of the board of the NAACP - and they were all said to me, you don't need to do this. The organization took my dad away from me. Now, they're going to take you away from me.

(Soundbite of music)

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

(Soundbite of music)

Next on NEWS & NOTES, stay tune because after the break, we continue my conversation with veteran civil rights activist, Myrlie Ever-Williams. And we cover all the bases in our sports segment.

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