ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z

Myrlie Evers-Williams
National Visionary


Born March 17, 1933 in Vicksburg, Mississippi

Civil Rights activist, former Chairman of the NAACP, widow of murdered Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers








BIOGRAPHY
Myrlie Evers-Williams has long been a pioneer in the struggles for racial justice and women's equality. She fought for decades to gain justice in the assassination of her first husband, Mississippi NAACP leader, Medgar Evers, worked tirelessly for civil rights, and in 1995, won the chairmanship of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


Evers-Williams as a young woman
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1933, young Myrlie grew up in her grandmother's modest home. In 1950, she entered Alcorn A&M College, and on her first day, met Medgar Evers, a veteran attending Alcorn on the GI Bill. He was a popular campus leader and athlete, and also active in the NAACP. They married in 1951.

Medgar became the NAACP's first Mississippi Field Director in 1954. Myrlie helped open the new office in Jackson and worked with her husband in the increasingly dangerous campaigns against segregation Their family home was firebombed. Then, shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963, Byron de la Beckwith, a self-proclaimed segregationist, shot Medgar in the back, in front of the Evers' home. Beckwith fled, but left his weapon, prints and other evidence behind. Myrlie and her three children were there. Beckwith was tried twice but the all-white, all-male juries deadlocked.  It would take Myrlie Evers close to three decades of working to help unearth new evidence to bring her husband’s killer to justice. Finally, the case was reopened, and on February 5, 1994, Byron de la Beckwith was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to life in prison

Within months of her husband’s 1963 murder, despite continuing threats and financial hardship, the young widow began traveling across the country, speaking out and raising funds for the NAACP. In 1964, she moved her family to California, starting over at Pomona College, and graduating at age 35. She became increasingly politically active in her own right, making an initial unsuccessful try for a congressional seat in 1969.

Mrs. Evers spent 12 years with the Atlantic Richfield Company handling consumer relations, and in 1976, she married Walter Williams, a labor organizer. She continued to work with the NAACP, eventually becoming a member of the board. In the late 1980s, she made history as the first African American appointed to the powerful five-member Los Angeles Public Works Commission, overseeing a budget of $1 billion.


The Evers' wedding

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Center
In 1994, the NAACP faced financial troubles and accusations of wrongdoing at the top. Evers-Williams ran for the chairmanship and won on February 18, 1995, saying "Medgar died for the NAACP. I will live for the NAACP." Her second husband, Walter, who had urged her to run, died of prostate cancer only a few days after the victory.

She steered the organization through tough downsizing decisions governance reforms, and attacks on various civil rights gains. By the time she retired in 1998, Evers-Williams had managed to restore the NAACP’s financial stability and the public’s trust

She has received numerous awards, as well as seven honorary doctorates. Ebony magazine named her as one of the 100 Most Fascinating Black Women of the 20th Century.

Evers-Williams has co-written three books – “For Us, The Living”; “Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be”; and “The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters and Speeches”. Myrlie Evers-Williams continues to serve on the board of the NAACP and to develop the Medgar Evers Institute. She lives in Bend, Oregon.

VIDEO CLIPS


EXTERNAL LINKS
Myrlie Evers-Williams' Wikipedia Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/everswilliamsmyrlie


ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z