50th Anniversary of Death of Civil Rights Hero

Just as today began it was the 50th anniversary of the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson Missisippi. Head of that state’s NAACP Chapter, Evers was returning to his home from a meeting a little after midnight when a sniper shot him in the back right after he got out of his car. His wife Myrlie was inside with their children at the time. When they heard the shot, the children hit the floor as they had been trained to do–a good thing, as the bullet ricocheted through the house
and Myrlie ran out and cradled her husband in her arms. He died less than an hour later in the hospital.

There was a wonderful TV film starring Howard E. Rollins, Jr.–FOR US THE LIVING. It is available on VHS, but not yet on DVD, though some libraries might still have it in this form–or maybe Netflix. It’s well worth watching because it depicts his pioneering CR work in the most segregated state of the South, and his ability to grow in his work. A very young Laurence Fishburne plays one of the high school student volunteers who were pushing for a more active role than office work and talking with people. Following NAACP policy to work only in the court system and to avoid confrontation demonstrations, Evers resisted the students until at last they convinced him to support their boycott work. The students were soon challenging Jim Crow at the dime store and library level. It reminded me of a similar situation in Shaw, Ms. where I was a volunteer in 1964’s Freedom Summer where the high school students kept asking to be allowed to try to integrate the local library–and at last the adult director agreed.
The above film was released in 1983, but the killer Byron De La Beckwith was able to avoid justice. Not very difficult in the 60s with the cops, judges, and most citizens convinced the killer was a hero who should be honored for ridding the state of a “Commie agitator.” It wasn’t until 1994, after a new white District Attorney who was free of the racism that so infected his constituents came into office that justice finally caught up with the coward. This story is beautifully told in GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI, starring Alec Baldwin as D.A. Bobby De Laughter, James Woods as the killer, and Whoopie Goldberg as Myrlie, Evers’ widow. It is available in various forms, DVD and streaming. A very good social justice film!
We should pause ever so often, on such days as this, and remember that our moving toward Dr. King’s “beloved community” (still a long ways off) has cost a lot of lives of brave people.
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2 Replies to “50th Anniversary of Death of Civil Rights Hero”

  1. I thought Rob Reiner did a great job of directing. He had such a mesh of talent to work with and as we all know along with that comes lots of egos.
    I liked the way DeLauter addressed the jury “find him accountable and find him guilty. Simply because it is right, it is just, and Lord knows, it is time. Is it ever too late to do the right thing?”
    The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. The uprising will come…we don’t know yet when, but it will come. Let’s hope it is peaceful. One of the most American things is civil disobedience. Great American philosophers like Emerson and Thoreau have described how civil disobedience is not only a right, but practically a duty for all Americans to keep these kind of laws in check. Checks and balances are necessary in every open society.
    It is quite un-american to think of the law as some kind of immovable obstacle.
    Movies can give guidance especially when they are so powerfully done.

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