Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens' Council. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His murder and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music, and film.
In 1948 Evers enrolled at Alcorn College (a historically black college, now Alcorn State University) majoring in business administration. He also competed on the debate, football, and track teams, sang in the choir, and was junior class president. He earned his BA in 1952.
On December 24, 1951, he married classmate Myrlie Beasley. Together they had three children: Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke. Darrell died in February 2001 of colon cancer.
ActivismThe couple moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where Evers became a salesman for T. R. M. Howard's Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Howard was also president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL); Evers helped organize the RCNL's boycott of filling stations which denied blacks use of the stations' restrooms. Evers and his brother Charles also attended the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1954, which drew crowds of ten thousand or more.
Evers applied to the then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School in 1954 but his application was rejected. He submitted his application in concert with the NAACP as a test case.
In late 1954 Evers' was named the NAACP's first field secretary for Mississippi. In this position, he helped organize boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP. He was involved with James Meredith's efforts to enroll in the University of Mississippi in the early 1960s.
Evers’ civil rights leadership and investigative work made him a target of white supremacists. In the weeks leading up to his death, the hostility directed towards him grew. His public investigations into the murder of Emmett Till and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard had made him a prominent black leader. On May 28, 1963, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home. On June 7, 1963, Evers was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from the Jackson NAACP office.
AssassinationIn the early morning of June 12, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy's speech on national television in support of civil rights, Evers pulled into his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that read "Jim Crow Must Go," Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle; it ricocheted into his home. He staggered 9 meters (30 feet) before collapsing. He died at a local hospital 50 minutes later.
On June 21, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the White Citizens' Council (and later of the Ku Klux Klan), was arrested for Evers' murder.
District Attorney and future governor Bill Waller prosecuted De La Beckwith. Juries composed solely of white men twice that year deadlocked on De La Beckwith's guilt.
In 1994, 30 years after the two previous trials had failed to reach a verdict, De La Beckwith was brought to trial based on new evidence. Bobby DeLaughter was the prosecutor. During the trial, the body of Evers was exhumed from his grave for autopsy. De La Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994, after having lived as a free man for much of the three decades following the killing (he was imprisoned from 1977 to 1980 for conspiring to murder A. I. Botnick). De La Beckwith appealed unsuccessfully, and died at age 80 in prison in January 2001.
LegacyIn 1963, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. In 1969, Medgar Evers College was established in Brooklyn, New York as part of the City University of New York. Evers's widow, Myrlie Evers co-wrote the book For Us, the Living with William Peters in 1967. In 1983, a movie was made based on the book. Celebrating Evers's life and career, it starred Howard Rollins, Jr. and Irene Cara as Medgar and Myrlie Evers, airing on PBS. The film won the Writers Guild of America award for Best Adapted Drama. On June 28, 1992, the city of Jackson, Mississippi erected a statue in honor of Evers. All of Delta Drive (part of U.S. Highway 49) in Jackson was renamed in Evers' honor. In December 2004, the Jackson City Council changed the name of the city's airport to "Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport" (Jackson-Evers International Airport) in honor of him.
His widow Myrlie Evers became a noted activist in her own right later in life, eventually serving as chair of the NAACP. Medgar's brother Charles Evers returned to Jackson in July 1963 and served briefly in his slain brother's place. He remained involved in Mississippi civil rights activities for many years and resides in Jackson.
On the 40-year anniversary of Evers' assassination, hundreds of civil rights veterans, government officials, and students from across the country gathered around his grave site at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate his life and legacy. Barry Bradford and three students—Sharmistha Dev, Jajah Wu and Debra Siegel, formerly of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois—planned and hosted the commemoration in his honor. Evers was the subject of the students' research project.
In October 2009, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, announced that USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE-13), a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship, would be named in the activist's honor. The ship was christened by Myrlie Evers-Williams on November 12, 2011.
In popular cultureThe murder and subsequent trials caused an uproar. Musician Bob Dylan wrote his 1963 song "Only a Pawn in Their Game" about the assassination. Nina Simone wrote and sang "Mississippi Goddam" about the Evers case and Phil Ochs wrote the songs "Another Country" and "Too Many Martyrs" (also titled "The Ballad Of Medgar Evers") in response to the killing, with Matthew Jones and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers also recording the latter song. Eudora Welty's short story "Where Is the Voice Coming From", in which the speaker is the imagined assassin of Medgar Evers, was published in The New Yorker in 1963.
Evers' story inspired a 1991 episode of the NBC TV series In the Heat of the Night, entitled "Sweet, Sweet Blues", written by author William James Royce. The story tells of a murder of a young black man and the elderly white man, played by actor James Best, who seems to have got away with the 40-year-old murder. (The TV episode preceded by several years the trial that convicted Beckwith.) In the Heat of the Night won its first NAACP Image Award for Best Dramatic Series that season.
The 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi, directed by Rob Reiner, tells the story of the 1994 retrial of Beckwith, in which prosecutor DeLaughter of the US District Attorney's office secured a conviction in federal court. Beckwith and DeLaughter were played by James Woods and Alec Baldwin, respectively; Whoopi Goldberg played Myrlie Evers. Evers was portrayed by James Pickens, Jr.. The film was based on a book of the same name.
Robert DeLaughter wrote a first-person narrative article entitled "Mississippi Justice" published in Reader's Digest, and a book, Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case (2001), based on his experiences.