50 Years Since Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers Was Killed In Mississippi

A sad anniversary was reached today, as 50 years ago, civil rights activist Medgar Evers was killed in Mississippi by gunfire, as he stepped out of his car at his home, just hours after Alabama Governor George Wallace had stood in the door of the Registrar’s Office at the University of Alabama, attempting to stop the registration of two black students at the university, which had led to President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Speech that evening, one of the greatest Presidential speeches in American history!

It was just past midnight, when Evers, the Mississippi Field Secretary of the NAACP, was slaughtered, leaving three young children and a wife, Myrlie Evers-Williams, who survives him after 50 years, and later became the Chairwoman of the NAACP.

His assassin went free after a hung jury, but was later convicted on new evidence thirty years later, and served time in prison for the last seven years of his life.

A community college in New York City was created within a few years in his honor, and Evers has remained a leading part of the civil rights story.

His death also shaped the thoughts of a young generation of whites and blacks, and stained the reputation of both Mississippi and Alabama, as the two worst states on civil rights above all others, with Mississippi often compared in many ways to Nazi Germany in its treatment of its minority population, before the federal government intervened and enforced civil rights on all states by legislation in 1964, repudiating the arguments of states rights!

5 comments on “50 Years Since Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers Was Killed In Mississippi

  1. Juan Domingo Peron June 13, 2013 8:12 am

    George Wallace was a Republican? Who knew!? That’s according to MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” showed a photo of Wallace — identifying him as “(R) Alabama.” Of course they later corrected their “mistake” the next day. But notice that Hayes during his speech about Governor Wallace never once mentioned that he was a Democrat. As a matter of fact it is a pattern I noticed not only in the media, they never ever say that Wallace or any other segregationist were Democrats, but it is also a pattern I saw at Law School while discussing the same issue. While we reviewed cases, and even watched a video presentation about segregation and the Southern governors, never once was it ever mentioned that they were Democrats. Why even when talking about Eisenhower and his civil rights act, or Warren and Brown v Education, not a word that they were Republicans. But they made sure to mention “Democrat” Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and their efforts on civil rights. Never mentioning of course that both of them voted against the Eisenhower Civil Rights Act of 1958 while they were Senators. Of course I would call the professor out on it, but I ask you Ron, is this a pattern for all Professors? Just curious. I bet if you asked a lot of young kids, or even Leia (before she reads this), what party Wallace belonged to, they would naturally say Republican…

  2. Ronald June 13, 2013 8:19 am

    When I teach about the Civil Rights era, I make it clear that the southern segregationists were Democrats, and that finally, LBJ overcame them, and pushed through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, turning against his Southern heritage. I also point out that many moderate Republicans supported these laws, and that Warren and Eisenhower were Republicans.

    However, I also point out that after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Strom Thurmond switched parties to the GOP, leading a movement that led to most Southern Senators and Congressmen becoming switchers, dedicated to stalling civil rights in any way they could, including Jesse Helms as the most infamous of them all, more even than Thurmond.

    So I make it clear that the GOP of later years moved away from general support of civil rights in the South, and that the South has never changed, except in party identification.

    I wonder if you will see what I am saying as accurate, but it is whether you agree or not. These are the historical facts, and continue to haunt the GOP today, that they are a party that, in much of their base, is veiled racism, not as open as in the 1950s and 1960s, but nevertheless the same in result!

  3. Ronald June 13, 2013 8:26 am

    I looked up the roll call vote on the Civil Rights Act of 1957 in the Senate, and it says the vote was 72-18, with JFK and LBJ voting YES!

    So despite seeing elsewhere that both voted NO, it might have been an earlier version, and the law was weakened as a result, and apparently, both men voted YES on final roll call!

  4. Juan Domingo Peron June 13, 2013 9:59 am

    Ron: I have a few questions for you as a Professor. Wasn’t the growth of GOP support among white Southerners steady and mostly gradual from 1928 to 2010, and wasn’t it a natural outgrowth of the fact that white Southerners were ideologically much more compatible with the national Republican agenda and coalition than with the national Democratic agenda and coalition? Wasn’t the real “Southern Strategy” the one pursued by the Democrats, especially under FDR, to keep conservative white Southerners in a modern liberal big government party? Was it not a combination of party loyalties dating back to Reconstruction and the Democrats’ use of racial issues that retarded the Southern switch from the Democrats to the GOP? In other words, if you took race out of the picture, wouldn’t it have been more likely that white Southerners would have switched parties earlier and in greater numbers?
    Was the South , from 1928 on, not as solidly Democratic as portrayed (and were there not pockets of the South that had always been GOP-friendly, especially in Tennessee, Virginia and Texas)? Did not the fortunes of the GOP begin to pick up significantly as conservative anti-union Southerners soured on the New Deal after 1936? And did that not accelerated under Eisenhower?
    The Great Depression set Republicans back, but post-1948, did not the Republicans begin seriously working to pick the Democrats’ lock on the South? In 1952, didn’t Eisenhower carry three Southern states? And In 1956, didn’t he carry five, including deep Southern states like Louisiana where Eisenhower came 15,000 votes in North Carolina from carrying a majority of the Southern states? Were not the days of Republicans receiving 5 percent of the vote in Deep Southern states by then over? Didn’t Eisenhower receive at least one-third of the vote in every state in the Old Confederacy?
    What about when the pro-Civil Rights Nixon, who was representing an Administration that enforced Brown v. Board, did he not carry Virginia, Tennessee and Florida? And were not Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina all decided by five points or less? Without LBJ as the Vp candidate, Nixon may well have carried those states – indeed Republicans picked up their first elected Southern Senate seat in history in a 1960 special election shortly after the election,if I am not mistaken.
    In 1964, Goldwater did break through in the Deep South. But compared to the preceding decade, that isn’t all that surprising. Goldwater ran roughly even with Nixon in Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. He ran about ten points better in South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. On average, he ran two points ahead of Nixon. Compare this with 1952, when Eisenhower ran 22 points ahead of Dewey in the South. But even though the Deep South voted for Goldwater in 1964, didn’t the Democrats still carried a whopping 90 of 106 congressional districts in Dixie in 1964? Didn’t the big breakthrough for the GOP in the House did not come until 1994? And prior to that, isn’t it true that the Democrats could count on better than 3/5ths of the Southern congressional districts?
    Are you saying that race is the dominant reason why white Southerners found a home in the GOP? But are you not ignoring the role of (among other issues) economics, religion, and foreign policy/national security? . If so, don’t you think it is ridiculous? I mean would the average white Southern voter have been in perfect sync with George McGovern, Ted Kennedy and Michael Dukakis on those issues (economics, religion, and foreign policy/national security) if not for the Magic Race Card?
    Also, demographically, didn’t southern voters in successive generations tend to vote more Republican as their economic circumstances came to more closely resemble those of Republicans outside the South? In other words, as the South became less poor, less rural, and more suburban, didn’t it start electing more Republicans?
    As late as 2010, did not states like Alabama and North Carolina vote in their first Republican legislative majorities since Reconstruction? Wouldn’t that have happened overnight in the late 60s if the partisan realignment had been driven by lockstep white voting loyalties on racial lines? Let’s be frank…. The South was a lot more racist than any part of the country 60 years ago. But attitudes have shifted dramatically since then. To suggest things in the South are anything like they were in the 1950s is frankly absurd.
    The actual 1960s-era Republican record on civil rights is also not what is painted by the myth. When Thurmond met with Nixon to pledge his support in 1968, did he not ask for reassurance from Nixon on only one issue: missile defense? Not a word about segregation or racial issue, correct?
    The whole idea of the Southern Strategy is that Nixon, Reagan and Bush flamed the racist whites in the South for electoral votes. This dismisses the fact that those three politicians won almost every state in their elections. Does that mean the north, Midwest, and west are racist as well? In 1976, Jimmy Carter carried the south on his way to the White House. Apparently 12 years after the Civil Rights Act the South still elected Democrats from the South.

  5. Ronald June 13, 2013 10:13 am

    Juan, you make some interesting observations, and certainly, much of it makes sense. Eisenhower and Goldwater helped to transform the South over time, and race would not be the only reason why Southerners voted Republican in the time of McGovern, Ted Kennedy, and Dukakis, and it is interesting that ONLY when Southerners were nominated for President by the Democrats, that they could carry the nation (Carter, Clinton), as otherwise, they alienated much of the nation in the electoral college. So I accept that racism was not the only reason, but also cultural factors, and foreign policy, where the South has always been more hawkish and in support of the defense establishment!

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