MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS Biography - Royalty, Rulers & leaders


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Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams is perhaps best remembered as the                     
widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP who                 
in 1963 was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson. In the years                   
since the assassination and two hung juries that left the accused gunman, white                 
supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, a free man, Mrs. Evers has continued to wage a               
lonely war to keep her husband?s memory and dreams alive and to bring his killer               
to justice. Her diligence eventually paid off when Beckwith was brought to trial               
for a third time and finally, in 1994, was found guilty of the murder of Medgar                 
Evers, more than 30 years after the crime.                                                     
Myrlie Beasley was born March 17, 1933, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1950, she                 
enrolled at Alcorn A&M College, where she met Medgar Evers, an upperclassman and               
Army veteran. She left school before earning her degree, and they married on                   
Christmas Eve, 1951.                                                                           
After Medgar was named the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP in                   
1954, Myrlie became his secretary and together they worked to organize voter                   
registration drives and civil rights demonstrations. As prominent civil rights                 
leaders in Mississippi, the Everses became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist         
violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home in Jackson was firebombed in                       
reaction to Medgar?s organized boycott of downtown Jackson?s white merchants.                   
The violence reached its worst point the following year, when Medgar was gunned                 
down by a sniper in front of his home. On the evening of June 11, 1963,                         
President John F. Kennedy in a televised speech had pleaded for racial harmony                 
and had announced his plan to submit new civil rights legislation to Congress, a               
plan which infuriated many segregationists. At about 12:30 a.m. on June 12,                     
Medgar had just pulled into the driveway after a long day of work, when a shot                 
from a 30.06 military rifle hit him in the back.                                               
The rifle was recovered about 150 feet from the scene of the shooting, and on                   
its scope were found the fingerprints of its owner, Byron De La Beckwith, a 42-year-old         
fertilizer salesman and an outspoken opponent of integration. Though he publicly               
denied any involvement with the shooting, he made it clear that he was glad it                 
had happened.                                                                                   
He was indicted for the murder, but in two separate trials, the all-white juries               
deadlocked and he was set free. Mrs. Evers and her three children moved to                     
Claremont, California, where she enrolled at Pomona College and began working                   
toward her bachelor?s degree in sociology. In 1967, she co-wrote a book about                   
her husband, For Us, the Living, with William Peters, and she continued to make                 
numerous personal appearances on behalf of the NAACP.                                           
In 1968, she earned her degree from Pomona College, and in 1975 she married                     
Walter Williams. In 1988, she was the first black woman to be named to the five-member         
Board of Public Works by Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, where she helped oversee               
a budget of nearly $1 billion.                                                                 
She also kept up pressure to retry the case of her first husband?s assassin, and               
in the early 1990s, she convinced prosecutors in Mississippi to reopen the case.               
Aiding the prosecution were new witnesses willing to testify against Beckwith                   
and Myrlie?s own copy of the original trial transcript, since the official one                 
supposedly on record had been removed some time earlier by the Mississippi                     
Sovereignty Commission, a secret organization that from 1956 to 1973 had been                   
charged with maintaining the racial status quo. On February 4, 1994, Beckwith                   
was found guilty by a jury consisting of eight African Americans and four whites.               
The 73-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001.                     
In 1995, the same year her second husband died of prostate cancer, Myrlie Evers-Williams       
became the first woman to chair the NAACP, a position she held until 1998. In                   
1999, she published her memoirs, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to                     
Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, which charts her journey from being the                   
wife of an activist to becoming a community leader in her own right.