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In the driveway outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi, African American civil rights leader Medgar Evers is shot to death by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith.
During World War II, Evers volunteered for the U.S. Army and participated in the Normandy invasion. In 1952, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As a field worker for the NAACP, Evers traveled through his home state encouraging poor African Americans to register to vote and recruiting them into the civil rights movement. He was instrumental in getting witnesses and evidence for the Emmett Till murder case, which brought national attention to the plight of African Americans in the South. On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was killed.
READ MORE: How Medgar Evers’ Widow Fought 30 Years for His Killer’s Conviction
After a funeral in Jackson, he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. President John F. Kennedy and many other leaders publicly condemned the killing. In 1964, the first trial of chief suspect Byron De La Beckwith ended with a deadlock by an all-white jury, sparking numerous protests. When a second all-white jury also failed to reach a decision, De La Beckwith was set free. Three decades later, the state of Mississippi reopened the case under pressure from civil rights leaders and Evers’ family. In February 1994, a racially mixed jury in Jackson found Beckwith guilty of murder. The unrepentant white supremacist, aged 73, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in 2001.
READ MORE: Civil Rights Movement Timeline
Ghosts of Mississippi
Ghosts of Mississippi is a 1996 American biographical courtroom drama film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg and James Woods. The plot is based on the true story of the 1994 trial of Byron De La Beckwith, the white supremacist accused of the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
James Woods was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Byron De La Beckwith.  The original music score was composed by Marc Shaiman and the cinematography is by John Seale.
History: Medgar Evers assassinated
June 7, 1863: Black soldiers repelled a Confederate attack in hand-to-hand combat at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana.
June 7, 1875: Peter Crosby, an African-American sheriff in Vicksburg, Mississippi, was killed in the wake of the Vicksburg Massacre in which armed White Leagues overthrew the Reconstruction government, killing as many as 300 African Americans they regarded as a threat, including some of Crosby's deputies. President Ulysses S. Grant had sent troops to quell the violence and enable the sheriff's safe return. After Crosby returned, he was shot in the head by a white deputy. The event became part of the first Mississippi Plan — whites using violence, terror and corruption to retake power. Grant decided against sending in any more troops. It was the beginning of the end of Reconstruction.
June 7, 1892: Homer Plessy, a Creole of European and African descent, was jailed for sitting in a Louisiana railroad car designated for white people only. He said the law violated the 13th and 14th amendments, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 upheld his arrest, forging the “separate but equal” doctrine that remained in place until 1954. Plessy said after the ruling: “We, as freeman, still believe that we were right and our cause is sacred.”
June 8, 1861: Tennessee became the last state to secede from the Union.
June 8, 1953: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restaurants in the District of Columbia could not refuse to serve African-American customers.
June 8, 1969: James Earl Ray was captured at Heathrow Airport in London after spending two months fleeing from authorities, wanted for the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
June 9, 1963: Fannie Lou Hamer was among several Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee workers badly beaten by police in the Winona, Mississippi, jail after their bus stopped there.
June 10, 1964: The longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history ended with the Senate voting 71-29 to limit further debate. The vote came after 83 days of filibuster by 21 senators from Southern states. Less than a month later, the Civil Rights Act became a reality. The fight to pass the act was portrayed in the Broadway play, All the Way, which became an HBO movie.
June 10, 1966: Ben Chester White was shot to death by Klansmen near Natchez, Mississippi. White worked most of his life as a caretaker on a plantation and had no involvement in civil rights work. Klansmen had hoped that by killing White they could lure Martin Luther King Jr. to the area and kill him, too. The scheme failed. Three Klansmen dodged convictions in the 1960s, but one of them, Ernest Avants, was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison, where he died.
June 11, 1864: A month after Louisiana abolished slavery, a celebration took place. Thousands of African-American schoolchildren and political club members dressed in their holiday attire. They packed Congo Square in New Orleans, filling it with songs and speeches.
June 11, 1963: Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in front of a schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop desegregation by the enrollment of two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. Wallace stood aside after being confronted by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the Alabama National Guard. Later in life, Wallace apologized for his opposition to racial integration.
June 11, 1963: President John F. Kennedy made his historic civil rights speech, promising a bill to Congress the next week. He told the nation that “every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated.” Hours later, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi.
June 12, 1928: From June 12th to the 15th, the Democratic National Convention is held in Houston, Texas. One hundred black delegates were segregated from the white delegates by chicken wire.
June 12, 1963: NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi. White supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was tried twice in 1964, but each trial ended in a hung jury. In 1989, the case was reopened, and Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001.
Medgar Evers Assassinated
In the driveway outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi, African American civil rights leader Medgar Eversis shot to death by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith.
During World War II, Evers volunteered for the U.S. Army and participated in the Normandy invasion. In 1952, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
As a field worker for the NAACP, Evers traveled through his home state encouraging poor African Americans to register to vote and recruiting them into the civil rights movement. He was instrumental in getting witnesses and evidence for the Emmett Till murder case, which brought national attention to the plight of African Americans in the South.
On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was killed.
After a funeral in Jackson, he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. President John F. Kennedy and many other leaders publicly condemned the killing.
In 1964, the first trial of chief suspect Byron De La Beckwith ended with a deadlock by an all-white jury, sparking numerous protests. When a second all-white jury also failed to reach a decision, De La Beckwith was set free. Three decades later, the state of Mississippi reopened the case under pressure from civil rights leaders and Evers’ family. In February 1994, a racially mixed jury in Jackson found Beckwith guilty of murder. The unrepentant white supremacist, aged 73, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in 2001.
How the assassination of Medgar Evers galvanized the civil rights movement
In 1963, the activist and WWII veteran was murdered hours after the announcement of landmark civil rights legislation. It took 30 years to convict his killer.
He had planned to vote. But in 1946, a 21-year-old Medgar Evers left the courthouse in Decatur, Mississippi, without casting a ballot. Twenty armed white men, some of whom had been his childhood friends, had learned of his plans to vote and turned up to threaten him. Evers feared for his life. “I made up my mind that it would not be like that again,” he later wrote.
It wasn’t the first or last time Evers would experience bigotry or racial terror. During his career as a civil rights activist and NAACP leader, Evers became the target of those who wanted to uphold the South’s racist status quo. On June 12,1963, those threats became reality when he was murdered by a white supremacist in the driveway of his home.
Evers was born in segregated Decatur on July 2, 1925. As a child, he resented the deference he was expected to show to white people, and after serving in the U.S. Army and earning multiple medals during World War II, Evers returned in 1945 to a nation that denied him his citizenship rights at the polls.
After graduating from college in 1952, Evers took a job as an insurance agent in Mississippi. He organized new chapters of the NAACP as he traveled across the state.
In 1954, a few months before the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, Evers volunteered to challenge segregation in higher education and applied to the University of Mississippi School of Law. He was rejected on a technicality, but his willingness to risk harassment and threats for racial justice caught the eye of national NAACP leadership he was soon hired as the organization’s first field secretary in Mississippi.
The position catapulted him to what his wife Myrlie later called “No. 1 on the Mississippi ‘to-kill’ list.” Evers garnered national attention for organizing demonstrations and boycotts and for securing legal assistance for James Meredith, a black man whose 1962 attempt to enroll in the University of Mississippi was met with riots and state resistance. (Related: Mississippi tries to heal wounds with a civil rights museum—but can it own up to its past?)
Mississippi was home to the Citizens’ Council, a white supremacist group devoted to preserving segregation in the state’s schools, and its members subjected Evers to intimidation, harassment, threats, and even murder attempts. His family was threatened, as well in May 1963, his home was firebombed and subsequently saved by his wife, who put out the blaze with a garden hose. Myrlie and Medgar Evers trained their three children in what to do if they heard gunfire: crawl to the bathroom on the floor, then hide in the bathtub.
The grisly drill became reality in the early morning hours of June 12, 1963, when Evers was shot in the back in his driveway mere hours after President John F. Kennedy had delivered an address announcing the landmark civil rights legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Evers died in an all-white hospital a few hours later his family had to beg for him to be admitted after he was initially turned away because of his race. He was just 37.
Evers’ murder was met with widespread protests. Kennedy received the widowed Myrlie at the White House, and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, then the U.S. Attorney General, attended Evers’ military burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
The fury over Evers’ murder fueled the March on Washington in August 1963, and his death is widely considered a pivotal event in the civil rights movement. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson—who had assumed the office after Kennedy’s assassination—signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Today, a Naval ammunition ship and the international airport in Jackson, Mississippi, bear Evers’ name. His home is a national monument.
Evers’ murder fueled a national push for racial justice, but it would take another 30 years, and three trials, to convict his killer. Although the FBI traced the owner of a sniper rifle left at the Evers home to Citizens’ Council member Byron De La Beckwith, the first two trials were tainted by biased jury selection and lying witnesses. Each resulted in a hung jury and a mistrial.
In 1989, evidence emerged that a secret state agency called the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission—founded with an aim to obstruct civil rights activists—had helped Beckwith’s defense screen out jurors who might be sympathetic to civil rights. A new trial was ordered and, in 1994, Medgar Evers’ killer was sentenced to life in prison he died in 2001.
In a 2014 interview with National Geographic, Evers’ widow Myrlie—who became a prominent activist and protector of her slain husband’s legacy—described her journey from bitterness to hope.
“I don’t think you ever completely erase the negative feelings of hatred and prejudice and racism. That’s a part of the human makeup,” she said in the interview. “Medgar said repeatedly in his speeches, and certainly during the last year of his life, ‘This is the land of my birth. I believe in what is possible for the state of Mississippi. I believe that it will be one of the best places to live in America when we have solved the race problem.’
“I said to him,” she continued, “‘You are out of your mind.’ I’m a native Mississippian. I was born in Vicksburg. ‘Things will never change in Mississippi. You are wasting your time. And I fear for your life.’ He would look at me with an uncomfortable stare, and he would say: ‘You will see.’”
New Evidence, Conviction and Death
After Beckwith&aposs second trial, Evers&apos wife moved their children to California, where she earned a degree from Pomona College and was later named to the Los Angeles Commission of Public Works. Convinced that her husband&aposs killer had not been brought to justice, she continued to search for new evidence in the case.
In 1989, the question of Beckwith&aposs guilt was again raised when a Jackson newspaper published accounts of the files of the now-defunct Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, an organization that existed during the 1950s to help raise popular support for the maintenance of segregation. The accounts showed that the commission had helped lawyers for Beckwith screen potential jurors during the first two trials. A review by the Hinds County District Attorney&aposs office found no evidence of such jury tampering, but it did locate a number of new witnesses, including several individuals who would eventually testify that Beckwith had bragged to them about the murder.
In December 1990, Beckwith was again indicted for the murder of Evers. After a number of appeals, the Mississippi Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of a third trial in April 1993. Ten months later, testimony began before a racially mixed jury of eight Black people and four white people. In February 1994, nearly 31 years after Evers&apos death, Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died in January 2001 at the age of 80.
Civil Rights History: Medgar Evers assassinated
June 11, 1864: A month after Louisiana abolished slavery, a celebration takes place. Since the late 17th century, African Americans who were enslaved had gathered at the Congo Square in New Orleans, singing, dancing and drumming. But now thousands of African Americans, many of whom had just been freed, pack the square and fill it with their celebrations.
June 11, 1963: Alabama Gov. George Wallace stands in front of a schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop desegregation by the enrollment of two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. Wallace stands aside after being confronted by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the Alabama National Guard. Later in life, Wallace apologizes for his opposition to racial integration.
President John F. Kennedy delivered his first radio-television address to the nation on civil rights on June 11, 1963 in Washington. (Photo: Charles Gorry/AP)
June 11, 1963: After George Wallace’s action, President John F. Kennedy decides to deliver a civil rights speech — against his senior staffers’ advice. His speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, finishes with less than five minutes before Kennedy goes on the air at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Kennedy had jotted down a few notes in case he had to speak extemporaneously. He tells the nation that “every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated” and promises a bill to Congress the next week.
June 12, 1928: From June 12th to the 15th, the Democratic National Convention is held in Houston, Texas. One hundred black delegates are segregated from the white delegates by chicken wire.
June 12, 1963: NAACP leader Medgar Evers is assassinated outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi. White supremacist Byron De La Beckwith is tried twice in 1964, but each trial ends in a hung jury. In 1989, the case is reopened, and Beckwith is convicted and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001.
Medgar Evers, the NAACP's first field secretary for Mississippi, stands near a Mississippi state sign in this 1958 photo. He was assassinated in the driveway of his Jackson home in 1963, and his death helped to inspire changes in both Mississippi and the nation. (Photo: Francis H. Mitchell/AP)
June 12, 1967: In Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that prohibiting interracial marriage violates the 14th Amendment. In 1958, an interracial couple that moved to Virginia had been sentenced to a year in prison. Their appeal led to the decision written by Chief Justice Earl Warren: “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” A 2016 film captured the couple’s journey.
Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard P. Loving, are shown in this Jan. 26, 1965, photo. The couple's challenge of Virginia law banning interracial marriage led to a landmark Supreme Court decision. (Photo: Associated Press)
June 13, 1967: President Lyndon B. Johnson appoints the first African American, Thurgood Marshall, to the U.S. Supreme Court. A former NAACP lawyer, he had won 14 of the 19 cases he had argued before the high court. Marshall, then solicitor general of the United States, had been the lead attorney in the Brown v. Board of Education case that ended legal segregation in the schools.
June 14, 1963: Maryland Gov. J. Millard Tawes declares martial law and sends National Guard troops to Cambridge to quell protests there after segregationists clash with the 500 protesters marching downtown. Weeks after the National Guard has left, protesters are assaulted again, leading to more protests. The National Guard returns.
June 14, 1966: When the March Against Fear comes through Grenada, Mississippi, 600 gather at the foot of the town’s Confederate monument, culminating in Dr. Robert Green planting a U.S. flag on the statue. That event helps spawn a series of protests, including boycotts of still-segregated businesses. When protesters try to sit in the “white” section of the local movie theater, police arrest them.
June 14, 2007: A jury convicts James Ford Seale of taking part in the Klan’s 1964 abduction, beatings and killings of two black teenagers, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. Seale receives three life sentences on kidnapping and conspiracy charges.
June 15, 1864: Congress makes pay of black Union soldiers ($10 per month for all ranks) equal to that of white Union soldiers ($13 per month for privates, larger amounts for higher ranks) in the Civil War.
June 15, 1877: Henry O. Flipper becomes the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is given a dishonorable discharge from the Army in 1882 on charges later questioned as racially motivated. In 1999, President Clinton grants him a posthumous pardon.
June 15, 1943: The Congress of Racial Equality is founded in Chicago by a group of students including James Farmer and Bayard Rustin. They find inspiration in Mahatma Gandhi and his nonviolent victory over British colonial rule of India for their struggle to achieve full legal rights for African Americans.
June 16, 1822: Denmark Vesey, who bought his own freedom after winning $1,500 from the Charleston lottery, organizes a plot to revolt and liberate African Americans enslaved in Charleston, South Carolina. When news leaks about what is happening, Vesey and more than 30 others are executed. The church where Vesey is a leader, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, is burned to the ground. In the years that followed, Vesey remains a symbol of resistance, and the rebuilt church becomes a haven for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. speaking there in 1962. In 2015, it becomes the site of a massacre when a young white man shoots to death nine members.
June 17, 1966: Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, gives a speech at a rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, calling for “black power.” Television cameras catch the moment, and the slogan spreads rapidly, marking a turn in the civil rights movement. Carmichael and SNCC leader Willie Ricks have been credited with creating the slogan that helped fuel the push for self-determinism.
June 12, 1963: Medgar Evers, Mississippi Civil Rights Leader, is Shot and Killed
On this day, June 12, 1963, Mississippi civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, was shot and murdered by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the racist White Citizens Council. Evers was the Field Secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi. The assassination occurred just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s nationally televised speech on June 11, 1963, calling for a federal civil rights law. All-white juries twice failed to convict De La Beckwith of the murder. The case was reopened in the 1990s however, De La Beckwith was convicted of murder in February 1994.
Evers Medgar, an African-American, was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. He was the third child among five children, including his famous elder brother- Charles Evers of Jesse (Wright), and James Evers. The Evers family owned a small farm, and James also worked at a local sawmill. In order to attend the segregated schools and earn his high school diploma, Evers walked more than twelve miles each day.
Medgar Evers Wiley served in the U.S. Army during the World War II, between 1943 and 1945. Later, in June, 1944, he was commissioned to the European Theater and fought in the Battle of Normandy. After the end of the war, Medgar was honorably discharged as a sergeant. By 1948, Medgar Wiley enrolled at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, a historically black college, which is today known as the Alcorn State University. He majored in Business Administration in his studies. Medgar competed and/or participated in the college debate, track teams, football, college choir, and also served as a junior class president. He later, in 1952, earned his Bachelor of Arts.
As a college graduate and a World War II veteran, Medgar became an active participant and member of the Civil Rights Movement by the 1950s. He became the Field Secretary for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 1954 in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, Medgar worked hard to be admitted as an African-Americans to the University of Mississippi, a state-supported public university. He also championed the fights for voting rights and eradication of racial registration, access to public facilities, equal economic opportunities, alongside other demands for the changes within the segregated society.
Unfortunately, before he could successfully enjoy the fruits of his civil rights efforts and fights, Evers Medgar was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, who was a member of a group formed in 1954 to resist the integration of schools and civil rights activity, the “White Citizens’ Council”. As a veteran, Medgar was accorded with the full military honors during his burial at the Arlington National Cemetery. His murder and the consequential trials triggered a series of civil rights protests and riots, which were later followed by numerous works of art, films, and music reiterating his hard work and achievements in the fights for civil rights for the black community.
As a military veteran, Evers is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. A statue in his honor stands outside the public library in Jackson, Mississippi. The airport in Jackson is named in his honor. Medgar Evers College in New York City is named in his honor.
Williams, Reggie. (2005, July 2). Remembering Medgar, Afro King – American Red Star, p. A.1. The Black Newspapers.
Evers-Williams, Myrlie Marable, Manning (2005). The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches. Basic Civitas Books.