The life of Medgar Evers is synonymous with the civil rights struggle and his strong leadership in the movement. This series, written by Dorian Randall, will explore his life, work, and legacy using related collections at MDAH.
If the years were stamped with the names of the murdered, the months were inked with those of the beaten and maimed. Affidavits testifying to the routine cruelty of white Mississippians toward Negroes piled up in Medgar’s files. Beach represented an hour, a day, a week of Medgar’s life in a surrealist version of Hell. 1
From the time he was a boy, Medgar Evers witnessed how white brutality shaped fear among blacks. Willie Tingle, a family friend who allegedly winked at a white woman, was dragged through the black area of Decatur to the local fairgrounds, where a white mob hung his body from a tree and riddled it with gun shots.2 They left Tingle’s clothing at the fairgrounds, a constant reminder to Evers of the terrible consequences for any perceived transgression, however small. Evers would later investigate many similar incidents of brutality as field secretary of the NAACP.
Medgar’s wife Myrlie often feared for his safety: The Telephone would ring, and Medgar would be off on a dangerous trip to a dangerous investigation that would lead, in the end, to bitter frustration.3 During these trips, Evers often disguised himself in army fatigues or as a sharecropper, and on several occasions, cars pursued him as he drove out of town. However, Evers continued to put himself at risk in his quest for justice, investigating the murders of Emmett Till, George Lee, and many others. One case involved a young pregnant woman courageous enough to speak out against police brutality.
In a letter to Evers, Beatrice Young described the violent attack at the Hinds County Jail that led to her miscarriage in 1956. Young had been arrested without reasonable cause and savagely beaten by police officers. Evers took on the case and prepared Young for an appearance before the U.S. Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights in February 1957. In a report to NAACP headquarters, Evers commended Young on her poise and courage, writing that her appearance before the committee “once again spotlighted the State of Mississippi in the eyes of the world” and that she “may have paved the way for stronger civil rights legislation in the future on police brutality and infringement of constitutional rights by officers of the law.”4 When she returned home, Young faced harsh criticism and “intense economic sanctions from the white community due to her testimony,5 but her act of courage, as well as Evers’, brought greater awareness to the situation in Mississippi.
1Myrlie Evers and William Peters For Us the Living (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996), 205.
2Michael V. Williams, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2011), 25.
3Evers, For Us the Living, 203.
4Medgar Evers, “ Annual Report, 1957, Mississippi State Office, N.A.A.C.P,” in The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches, ed. Myrlie Evers-Williams and Manning Marable (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005), 82.
5 Williams, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr, 150.