James Meredith, left, and Medgar Evers are two of the most historic figures in Mississippi’s civil rights struggles. Evers helped Meredith in his effort to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962. He secured the NAACP’s legal team headed by Thurgood Marshall, who had won the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit, to assist Meredith. Evers himself had been denied admission to Ole Miss law school in 1954.
Evers, born in Decatur, Mississippi, in 1925, returned from service in World War II and enlisted at Alcorn A&M College. He married Myrlie Beasley of Vicksburg before graduating in 1951. They moved to Mound Bayou, where he sold insurance and began to work in voter registration. Named NAACP field secretary in 1954, he moved his family to Jackson, where he continued working for voting rights and the desegregation of schools and other public facilities, and speaking out against racial violence and injustice. Evers was murdered in his driveway early in the morning on June 12, 1963, as he arrived home from a rally. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His killer, Byron de la Beckwith, after two trials in 1964 that ended in hung juries, was finally convicted of his murder in 1994. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, would later chair the board of directors of the NAACP.
Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1933. He served in the Air Force and spent two years at Jackson State College before attempting to enter the University of Mississippi. Opposed by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, his enrollment triggered riots on the Ole Miss campus. Two people were killed and hundreds wounded on campus. Meredith graduated from the university, received a law degree from Columbia University in 1968. He was injured in 1966 as he led his March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson. Meredith worked in various business pursuits, wrote his memoirs, and became a Republican later in life and worked on the staff of Senator Jesse Helms. In 2002, the University of Mississippi honored him on the 40th anniversary of his enrollment there. Later that year, his son, Joseph, received a doctorate of business administration from Ole Miss. Tragically, Joseph died of a heart complication in 2008. Meredith lives in Jackson with his wife. He has a daughter and two sons.