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Medgar Evers Fought With Relentless Force In Civil Rights Struggle

Tuesday June 17, 2003

1963 became a watershed year in American History.  

Most notable was Nov. 22 as President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, Texas. In 1963, a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama killed four young black girls. Ironically, the murder of those young girls was just two weeks after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King told the world about his “dream.”  

It was 40 years ago, Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in a symbolic attempt to block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling at the school.  

While these events are indelibly etched in our collective minds, we must also remember June 12, 1963. On June 12, 1963, as he was returning home, Medgar Evers was killed by an assassin’s bullet.  

Medgar Evers was one of the first martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. He was born in 1925 in Decatur, Miss., to James and Jessie Evers. After a short stint in the army, he enrolled in Alcorn A&M College, graduating in 1952. His first job out of college was traveling around rural Mississippi selling insurance. He soon grew enraged at the despicable conditions of poor black families in his state, and joined the NAACP. In 1954, he was appointed Mississippi's first field secretary.  

Evers was outspoken, and his demands were radical for his rigidly segregated state. He fought for the enforcement of the 1954 court decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed school segregation; he fought for the right to vote, and he advocated boycotting merchants who discriminated. He worked unceasingly despite the threats of violence that his speeches engendered. He gave much of himself to this struggle, and in 1963, he gave his life.  

Yet rather than snuffing out a fledgling civil rights movement, the death of Medgar Evers focused attention on the plight of blacks across the South and reverberated across the nation and the world. 

All of us, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or class stand on the shoulders of Medgar Evers and countless others who would not be denied the rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. It is tragic commentary on U.S. history that Medgar Evers has yet to assume his rightful place among those who moved the land of the free and the home of brave a bit closer to authenticating the American experiment.  

This peaceful man, who had constantly urged that “violence is not the way” but who paid for his beliefs with his life, was a prominent voice in the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi. Evers refusal to forego his efforts for equality in the face of danger further radicalized the Civil Rights Movement.  

Whether one is deemed radical is measured by the times in which they live. Was not the Apple Mac Classic considered radical in the early 1980s? Therefore, the challenge today is to embrace the spirit of Medgar Evers 1963 radicalism with the reality of 2003. 

The 21st-century struggle against injustice does not bring the comforts and conveniences of reducing everything to black and white. It is a far more complicated struggle that places more emphasis on one’s condition than the percentage of melanin in their skin. 

The injustices that still exist against low income workers, cuts in public education, declining government services for the elderly and youth, civic participation and AIDS services, especially for people of color, requires an unrelenting radicalism that is not afraid to speak truth to power, a radicalism that was demonstrated by Medgar Evers some 40 years ago. 

Denisha M. DeLane, 24, is a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors and a resident of Berkeley. She represents Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington, as well as the countries of Japan, and Korea.