Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: Remembering Medgar Evers

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Fifty years ago this week, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Miss.

At the time of his demise, Evers was Mississippi's NAACP field secretary. In fact, it was because he was Mississippi's NAACP field secretary that he died way too young, just a few weeks shy of what would have been his 38th birthday.

All this week - and part of last - Evers has been getting his props as the major civil rights leader he was. And it's about darned time.

I'm sad to say that when Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963, the news made barely a ripple with me, if it made a ripple at all. I was only 11 years old; it was almost summer. I was hankering for school to end so I could romp for two and a half months of fun away from teachers and school.

But in the fall of 1963 I attended Harlem Park Junior High School in Baltimore. I had a social studies teacher named Bill Golden, who made darned sure I knew who Medgar Evers was, and what he meant to the civil rights movement.

It wasn't until much later - when I was in college - that I learned more about Evers' life and struggle as Mississippi's NAACP field secretary. I bought a copy of a book called "For Us, the Living."

The author was Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers. The opening line of the book still grips me as one of the most compelling in all of the memoirs I have ever read: "Somewhere in Mississippi lives the man that murdered my husband."

Myrlie Evers, who would later become Myrlie Evers-Williams after she remarried, wrote her book before segregationist Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted, in 1994, of Medgar Evers' murder. (Two all-white juries previously failed to convict Beckwith; he wasn't acquitted. Both trials ended with hung juries.)

In "For Us, the Living," I learned not only of the romance between Myrlie and Medgar Evers, but also of Medgar Evers' attempt to enroll in the University of Mississippi law school almost a decade before James Meredith did so.

I learned of Medgar Evers' efforts to publicize the lynching of Emmett Till and of his bold effort to bring the 14-year-old boy's killers to justice. I learned of how Medgar Evers drove relentlessly around the Mississippi Delta, investigating the cases of black Mississippians who were victims of racism and brutality.

Here, I concluded, was a man that made a major contribution to the civil rights movement. Why, I wondered, didn't he get the credit he deserved?

One reason is what I call black America's mania for Martin Luther King Jr. Yes, King was a major civil rights leader, one that should get all the credit he's received.

But he wasn't the only civil rights leader. Others made contributions just as significant. One was James Farmer, who led the Congress of Racial Equality during much of the 1960s.

Others were involved in the organization known as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, better known as SNCC. The bold youngsters that made up SNCC's membership have never been given proper credit for their contribution to the civil rights movement.

And then there was Medgar Evers, who doesn't even get his props on the Arlington National Cemetery website.

Evers is buried there. If you click on the "monuments and memorials" link on the cemetery website, you'll find another link to the Robert F. Kennedy gravesite. And one for the John F. Kennedy gravesite.

You'll even find a link for the Confederate memorial, people who bore arms against the United States.

But you'll find none for Evers (nor one for Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of World War II; figure that one). When will honchos at Arlington National Cemetery correct these egregious oversights?

Washington Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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Gregory Kane

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The Washington Examiner