Selected Excerpts from Book
Chapter 8: The Death of Medgar Evers
Excerpt: Extreme Danger for Evers and his Family
It is difficult now to comprehend just how harsh and brutal Mississippi’s racial war had become in the early 1960s. State-sponsored terrorism, as some have called it, was a way of life, and no one felt the jagged edge of that terror more acutely than did Medgar Evers and his family. Evers would get regular threats by phone at his office. “It just became a routine thing,” remembered his office assistant Lillian Louie. “[Being] physically threatened was just a daily thing.”
Myrlie Evers intercepted similar calls at home and came in for a fair share of contempt herself. “Black bitch,” one anonymous caller venomously spat. “You got another one of them niggers in your belly?” The Everses regularly received threats to blow up the house or the office, or to kill Medgar straight out. “We lived in terror,” Myrlie said, particularly after the James Meredith victory at Ole Miss, for which Evers and the NAACP had played such pivotal and visible roles.
Medgar and Myrlie openly talked of death. Evers knew he was a hunted man. “We knew his life was in danger,” Myrlie later bitterly noted.
But no one other than perhaps Evers’s closest Mississippi friends seemed to completely comprehend the extreme danger he was in: not his New York NAACP bosses; not his younger charges in the youth council; not his activist partners from Tougaloo.
As the Jackson Movement heated up, Evers’s friends offered to put up their own funds to pay for a security force for him if the NAACP would match their offer. Both Myrlie Evers and Laplois Ashford claim that Roy Wilkins and Gloster Current refused to hear of such a prospect. “The NAACP has more important things to do with its money,” Current said. Ashford went so far as to suggest that the national office executives were concerned that Evers was becoming a bigger star than they were. “We need to keep him in his place,” Ashford claimed to have heard Wilkins and Current say. “We need to put a lid on this.”
Their refusal to recognize the extreme danger Evers was facing and their dithering over how to conduct a large-scale grassroots movement put the emerging civil rights star at even greater risk. Evers alone among the NAACP staff regularly and publicly called for further demonstrations. He alone had to suffer the anxiety of the escalating threats to himself and to his family. The Salters had experienced some of this firsthand, but nothing like the daily taunts that Evers endured. Maybe the young folks at Tougaloo and the youth council had some vague notion of the danger—particularly after the scene at Woolworth’s—but they weren’t in a position to do much about it. Perhaps Ed King, a fellow native Mississippian, had the keenest sense of the danger to which Evers was daily exposing himself and his family. But he had long resigned himself to whatever might happen.
Evers, though hurt by the NAACP’s refusal to provide protection, seemed impervious to his fate. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt trying to save me,” he told his wife. Besides, “when my time comes, I’m going to go, regardless of the protection I have.” So he soldiered on. Facing the daily possibility of death, he kept pushing for change.
About the Author
It was while visiting the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991 that M. J. O’Brien conceived the work that has become We Shall Not Be Moved. As part of its civil rights display, the King Center showed a photograph of the 1963 Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth’s sit-in—a photograph that has become the image used in history books and magazine articles to show what a sit-in was like. O’Brien was captivated by the photograph because at its center was a woman, Joan (Trumpauer)Mulholland, whom he had known for a number of years.
We Shall Not Be Moved is a labor of love. Primarily created in the late 1990s and finally brought to life through the auspices of the University Press of Mississippi, it is a story of triumph and determination that was captured by the now-iconic Fred Blackwell photograph. Although its publication was delayed (as told in Acknowledgements), timing is everything. The book was supposed to be published in 1999, but for a variety of reasons, it is only reaching a broader public today. And that is as it should be. We are on the cusp of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In (May 28, 1963) and the courageous souls who decided, one-by-one , to sit in at the counter that day are being recognized for their contribution to the overall civil rights struggle.