I have just finished reading Joy-Ann Reid’s new book  MEDGAR & MYRLIE: Medgar Evers and the Love Story That Awakened America–and can highly recommend it. I had known of the martyred NAACP leader even before I  joined the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project way back in 1964. The three films in which he is portrayed greatly enhanced my knowledge of and respect for him. (A little more on these later) But Joy-Ann’s book really provided the small details that make one feel you know a person, at least as possible as it is to know someone whom you have never met.

After a brief history of Medgar and his brother Charles’  service in World War Two we follow his life  and his meeting Myrlie Beasley on her first first day at college. The fears of her family were realized in that she did not finish college, marrying Medgar instead.

She was not in favor of his becomng the head of the NAACP’s Missippi chapter, but dutifully served as his unpaid secretary anyway. She endured countless hate calls when he quickly became the most hated Negro in the state because of his effective work. She left him for a breif time because of the pressure, especilly when they birthed three children. But the two were soon reunited–she loved him too much to stay away.

Many of their talks, betwen themselves and their friends and neihgbors, are chronicld.–Joy-Ann interviwed Mrs. Evers several times, Also their children and friends. She documents each incident with prodigious endnotes–23 pages of them, so this is a meticulous account.

I was surprised to learn that Roy Wilkins and his NY staff were frequently at loggerheads over tactics. Traditionally the NAACP preferred to work through the courts, whereas Medgar, popular with youth, was promoting sit-ins and the boycott of downtown Jackson stores.  He was ferquently asking for more funds, while they would have preferred to cut back. So, it is not surprising, though tragically sad, that the national office refused to pay for the activist’s protection, with the inevtiable result.

Mrs. Evers admits to running on hate for many years after her husband’s murder, this increased by the ease with which the murderer Byron De La Beckwith got away with his crime, his two trials ending in hung juries. Even though she moved to California and then to he Pacific Northwest, she kept track of Beckwithwho remained in his home state When three decades later a Mississippi. D.A. was willing to reopen the case, she was ready, having saved the trial transcript (which the state had “lost”).

There is more, so much more, such as the information that she was a talented keyboard musician, eventually fulfilling her family and childhood dream of playing in Carnegie Hall. And that she became an effective speaker on behalf of her husband and civil rights, even in the 90s becoming chair of the board of the national NAACP when it had been almost broken by scandal.

Myrlie had co-written her husband’s biography  For Us the Living, and in 1983 American Playhouse adapted it for PBS–she is listed as the third screenwriter, between Ossie Davis and William Peters. Howard E. Rollins did a marvelous job as the dedicated activist learning from as well as teaching the high schoolers attracted to his cause. (Read my review by clicking here.)

In Ghosts of Mississippi Whoopi Goldberg portrays Myrlie Evers, Alce plays D. A. Bobby DeLaughter , and James Woods Beckwith. Also Yolanda King, MLK’s daughter plays Reena Evers, the oldest of the three Evers children. This film also deals with Myrlie’s struggle with hatred, she at one time quoting her husband, “When you hate, the only person who suffers is you, because most of the people you hate don’t know it and the others don’t care.”

In Till the couple make a brief appearance when the murdered boy’s mother Mamie comes to Mound Bayou, MS and as head of the NAACP in Mississippi Medgar seeks to help her in the tense days leading up to the trial of the boy’s murdrers.

Author Joy-Ann Reid, believing that Medgar Evers belongs right up there in the panteon of Civil Rights megastars as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, had done the nation a great service in her book by bringing this great man into the spotlight.


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