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Z 2231.000 S

1900s-1960s; 1990s
Original telegrams in box 17 and news clippings in boxes 17, 18, 19, 22, and 23 are restricted; reference photocopies must be used instead. Boxes 69, 75, 76, 78, 79, and 86 are restricted.


Medgar Wiley Evers

Medgar Wiley Evers was born near Decatur, Newton County, Mississippi, on July 2, 1925. He was the son of James and Jessie Evers of Newton County. The couple had five other children: Charles, Elizabeth, Eva Lee, Gene, and Mary Ruth. Evers attended elementary school in Decatur and high school in nearby Newton. In 1943, he left the eleventh grade to enlist in a segregated port battalion of the United States Army, which was later deployed to England, France, and Belgium during World War II. Between 1946 and 1948, Evers completed his secondary education at a laboratory high school affiliated with Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, Lorman, Jefferson County, Mississippi. In 1948, Evers enrolled at Alcorn where he was active in campus activities and sports. He married classmate Myrlie Louise Beasley of Vicksburg, Warren County, Mississippi, on December 24, 1951. With financial assistance provided by a football scholarship and the GI bill, Evers graduated from Alcorn with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1952.

Soon after graduation, Evers and his wife, Myrlie, moved to Mound Bayou, Bolivar County, Mississippi. There, he worked as an agent for the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. The couple’s first child, Darrell Kenyatta Evers, was born on June 30, 1953, and their daughter, Reena Denise Evers, was born on September 13, 1954. While living in Mound Bayou, Evers organized branches of the NAACP in the Delta and began recruiting new members. He also helped to promote a boycott of gas stations refusing to provide restrooms for African-Americans traveling in the Delta.

Evers applied for admission to the law school of the University of Mississippi, Oxford, Lafayette County, in 1954, but his application was denied. However, his attempt to enroll attracted the attention of national NAACP officials, and in December 1954, Medgar Evers became Mississippi field secretary of the NAACP. After opening the NAACP field office in Jackson, Hinds County, Mississippi, in January 1955, Evers began traveling across the state to encourage parents of African-American students to file petitions with local school boards. The petitions requested the enforcement of the landmark 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Oliver L. Brown, et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, et al., which ordered public-school desegregation. Evers collected affidavits from victims of racially motivated incidents and monitored and reported on state and local activities of the White Citizens’ Councils. He also investigated the lynching murders of African-Americans, including Emmett Till in 1955 and Mack Charles Parker in 1959.

Although previously unaffiliated with any religious denomination, Evers became a member of the New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson in 1956. He bought a new home on Guynes Street (now Margaret Walker Alexander Drive) in Jackson in 1957. Because the public schools in Jackson remained segregated, Darrell and Reena Evers began attending Christ the King Catholic School in the late 1950s. A second son, James Van Dyke Evers, was born in 1960.

Upon the invitation of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Evers attended the first meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1957. Evers was elected as secretary of the SCLC but was unable to serve because of conflict-of-interest issues with the NAACP. In 1961, Medgar Evers, Aaron Henry, and others established the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which was responsible for coordinating the activities of various affiliated civil-rights organizations operating in Mississippi.

In 1958, in Meridian, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, Evers attempted the integration of a bus that was bound for Jackson. Initially removed from the front seat of the bus by police officers, Evers later re-boarded it, only to be assaulted by a white taxicab driver who had forced his way onto the bus. However, Evers managed to return to Jackson--at the front of the bus.

Evers was cited for contempt of court in 1960 for publicly denouncing as a mockery of justice the trial, conviction, and sentence of Clyde Kennard. During the late 1950s, Kennard had unsuccessfully sought admission to the segregated Mississippi Southern College (University of Southern Mississippi) in Hattiesburg, Forrest County.

By the early 1960s, Evers was promoting acts of passive resistance by African-Americans to hasten the end of segregation in Mississippi. He staged “sit-ins” at public libraries and parks, on buses, and at lunch counters, especially in Jackson. During 1961, Evers assisted the Freedom Riders who planned to integrate buses traveling through Mississippi. He also organized the picketing of white-only businesses in Jackson. Evers endorsed other forms of passive resistance such as the community-wide boycotting of buses in Jackson. He even called for boycotting the Mississippi state fair, which had segregated days for African-Americans. Evers assisted James Meredith in his attempt to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962.

Medgar Evers also sought to end public-school segregation through the courts. When the Jackson school board ignored integration petitions filed by Evers and several other complainants, the petitioners were included in a 1963 federal district court lawsuit to integrate public schools in Mississippi.

By May 1963, the NAACP was demanding that Jackson mayor Allen Thompson hire black workers, integrate public facilities, and remove white-only signs from public buildings. After Thompson rejected the demands of the NAACP, Evers filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission in order to receive equal airtime on a local television station. He called for a community-wide boycott of white-owned businesses in Jackson.

An unknown arsonist firebombed the Evers home in late May 1963, but no family members were injured. Evers and several hundred demonstrators continued the picketing of white-owned businesses in Jackson, although many were arrested by police officers for restraint-of-trade violations.

Early in the morning of June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was assassinated by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith of Greenwood, Leflore County, Mississippi. More than four thousand people attended the Evers funeral service at the Masonic Temple on Lynch Street in Jackson on June 15, 1963. Over twenty-five thousand people viewed the remains of Evers prior to his burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on June 19, 1963. The murder of Evers, widely covered in the print media and on television, elicited a tremendous outpouring of sympathy, concern, and outrage that was expressed in the numerous cards, letters, and telegrams sent to Myrlie Evers from individuals throughout the world. The NAACP posthumously awarded Evers its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, on July 4, 1963. It was accepted on his behalf by Myrlie Evers. Charles Evers succeeded his brother as Mississippi field secretary of the NAACP.

On June 23, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith was charged with the murder of Evers. The first murder trial of De La Beckwith began in January 1964, and it ended in a mistrial in February. The second murder trial of De La Beckwith began in April 1964, and it also ended in a mistrial later that month.

In 1990, a Hinds County grand jury indicted De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of Evers. This was primarily due to the continuing efforts of Myrlie Evers-Williams to seek justice for the murder of Medgar Evers; the journalistic research of Clarion-Ledger staff writer Jerry Mitchell in the records of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission; the legal research of Hinds County assistant district attorney Bobby DeLaughter; and the willingness of Hinds County district attorney Ed Peters to re-prosecute the case. De La Beckwith was subsequently arrested at his home in Signal Mountain, Hamilton County, Tennessee, and he pleaded innocent at his arraignment in 1991. Despite objections from De La Beckwith’s attorneys that he was denied a speedy trial, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled four to three that a trial could proceed in 1992. De La Beckwith was convicted of the murder of Medgar Evers in 1994, and the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the murder conviction in 1997. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear De La Beckwith’s appeal in 1998. De La Beckwith died in prison in 2001.

Myrlie Beasley Evers

Myrlie Louise Beasley was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on March 17, 1933. She was the daughter of James Van Dyke and Mildred Washington Beasley. The couple separated about a year after their daughter’s birth. Myrlie Beasley was initially raised by her grandmother, Annie McCain Beasley. In 1943, Myrlie Beasley and her grandmother moved in with her aunt, Myrlie Beasley (Mrs. John Decatur) Polk. Myrlie Louise Beasley graduated from Magnolia High School (Bowman High School) in Vicksburg in 1950. She was also a member of the Chansonettes, a girls’ vocal group from Mount Heroden Baptist Church in Vicksburg, during her high-school years.

In 1950, Myrlie Beasley enrolled at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lorman, Mississippi. There, she majored in education, minored in music, and was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority before marrying classmate Medgar Evers in 1951. Leaving Alcorn after her sophomore year in 1952, Myrlie Evers moved with her husband to Mound Bayou where she worked as a secretary with the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Her son, Darrell Kenyatta Evers (b. 1953), and her daughter, Reena Denise Evers (b. 1954), were born in Mound Bayou.

Myrlie Evers accompanied her husband to Jackson after he was appointed Mississippi field secretary of the NAACP in 1954. She was also hired by the NAACP as the secretary of Medgar Evers. During this time, Myrlie Evers balanced the responsibilities of her NAACP job with the demands of caring for a growing family, including a second son, James Van Dyke (b. 1960).

Following the assassination of Medgar Evers, Myrlie, Darrell, and Reena Evers met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House on June 20, 1963. Myrlie Evers was unable to participate in the landmark civil-rights march on Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, due to her commitment to address the National Convention of Negro Elks in Boston, Massachusetts.

In July 1964, Myrlie Evers and her three children moved to Claremont, California. There, she enrolled at Pomona College and majored in sociology.

Scope and Content:

This collection currently includes Evers and Beasley family papers dating from the early 1900s to around July 1964, when Myrlie Evers and her children moved to Claremont, California. It is divided into the following subgroups: papers of Medgar Evers as Mississippi field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; family papers of Medgar Evers; papers of Myrlie Evers; and records relating to the case of the State of Mississippi v. Byron De La Beckwith.

Medgar Evers’s papers as Mississippi field secretary of the NAACP consist of minutes, correspondence, correspondence registers, telegrams, speeches, annual reports, monthly reports, financial records, petitions, photographs, programs, news releases, newsletters, newsclippings, subject files, and posters. These files document the tenure of Evers as NAACP field secretary in Mississippi from 1954 until his death on June 12, 1963. They provide evidence of the leadership Evers offered to African-Americans in their struggle for civil rights and racial equality in a segregated Mississippi. These files also reveal how closely Evers worked with national, state, and local NAACP leaders to facilitate organizational goals in Mississippi during the early years of the civil-rights movement.

The family papers of Medgar Evers include business and personal correspondence, postcards, funeral records, a memorial file, financial records, personal records, travel records, a certificate, a program, publications, photographs, negatives, Christmas cards, and audio recordings. This group of personal papers reflects the activities and interests of Medgar Evers; his wife, Myrlie Evers; their children, Darrell Kenyatta Evers, Reena Denise Evers, and James Van Dyke Evers; as well as other Evers or Beasley family members living in Decatur, Jackson, or Vicksburg, Mississippi, from the early 1900s to the early 1960s.

Myrlie Evers’s papers consist of business and personal correspondence, greeting cards, sympathy correspondence, sympathy cards, sympathy telegrams, press-service clippings, news clippings, speeches, financial records, travel records, school papers, programs, lyrics and musical scores, and publications. These papers mainly concern the efforts of Evers to rebuild her life after the murder of Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963. Especially poignant are the letters, cards, and telegrams expressing condolences upon the death of her husband, which were sent by individuals throughout the world up until the time Evers moved to Claremont, California, in 1964. Also documented is Evers’s sustained involvement in the NAACP and her work at the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), which she helped found.

The records relating to the case of the State of Mississippi v. Byron De La Beckwith (1964) include photocopies of criminal-offense reports, witness files, subpoenas, evidence files, motions and orders, and a memorandum book. The records pertaining to the case of the State of Mississippi v. Byron De La Beckwith (1994) include photocopies of court-case files, pleadings, a security consultant’s report, and a Ku Klux Klan-related file. There are also digital photoprints of scenes from the 1994 Byron De La Beckwith trial. This material was apparently assembled by Myrlie Evers for reference purposes around the time of the 1994 trial.

Subgroup and Series Identification:

Subgroup 1: Medgar Evers, Mississippi Field Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Papers

Subgroup 2: Medgar Evers and Family Papers

Subgroup 3: Myrlie Evers Papers

Subgroup 4: State of Mississippi v. Byron De La Beckwith Records

1964 Murder Trials

1994 Murder Trial

Appendix 1: Box and Folder List.