Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers (1925-1963), field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was one of the first martyrs of the civil rights movement. His death prompted President John Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil-rights bill, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the following year.

The Mississippi in which Medgar Evers lived was a place of blatant discrimination where blacks dared not even speak of civil rights, much less actively campaign for them. Evers, a thoughtful and committed member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wanted to change his native state. He paid for his convictions with his life, becoming the first major civil rights leader to be assassinated in the 1960s. He was shot in the back on June 12, 1963, after returning late from a meeting. He was 37 years old.

Evers was featured on a nine-man death list in the Deep South as early as 1955. He and his family endured numerous threats and other violent acts, making them well aware of the danger surrounding Evers because of his activism. Still he persisted in his efforts to integrate public facilities, schools, and restaurants. He organized voter registration drives and demonstrations. He spoke eloquently about the plight of his people and pleaded with the all-white government of Mississippi for some sort of progress in race relations. To those people who opposed such things, he was thought to be a very dangerous man. "We both knew he was going to die," Myrlie Evers said of her husband in Esquire. "Medgar didn't want to be a martyr. But if he had to die to get us that far, he was willing to do it."

In some ways, the death of Medgar Evers was a milestone in the hard-fought integration war that rocked America in the 1950s and 1960s. While the assassination of such a prominent black figure foreshadowed the violence to come, it also spurred other civil rights leaders--themselves targets of white supremacists--to new fervor. They, in turn, were able to infuse their followers--both black and white--with a new and expanded sense of purpose, one that replaced apprehension with anger. Esquire contributor Maryanne Vollers wrote: "People who lived through those days will tell you that something shifted in their hearts after Medgar Evers died something that put them beyond fear.... At that point a new motto was born: After Medgar, no more fear."

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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