JACKSON, Miss. — The widow of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was killed by a white supremacist outside his Jackson, Miss., home in 1963, laments that her husband is remembered primarily as an assassination victim.
This June, to mark the 50th anniversary of his slaying, a series of events will pay tribute to Evers' work toward racial equality during his 37 years.
"I see this as a celebration – one where we celebrate the man, what he did, and what his actions are still giving to us today, and to the future," Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams said Thursday.
Evers was the first field secretary in Mississippi for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He led marches, investigated racial violence, and organized voter registration drives. Through it all, he promoted a message of peace and unity.
During a news conference at a Jackson library named for Evers, Evers-Williams and daughter Reena Evers-Everette announced the details of the weeklong celebration. The first event, a memorial service, will be held June 5 at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington, D.C.
Evers served in the Army and fought at the Battle of Normandy. A symposium at the Newseum in Washington will also be held on June 5.
On June 10 and 11, there will be tours of civil rights sites around Jackson, a civil rights film festival and a day of learning and dialogue for young people in collaboration with the University of Mississippi's William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. June 12 will mark an international day of remembrance, including a celebration at the Mississippi Museum of Art, the chiming of bells and a tribute gala.
A decade ago, the anniversary of Evers' slaying was marked with a memorial at his graveside, his daughter said. This year, she wanted to shift the focus from mourning to celebration.
"I told my mother, `The 50th is coming up and I don't want it to be about his death. I want it to be about his life,'" Evers-Everette said.
But Evers-Everette said that remembering her father is always painful. After having lived in California and Atlanta, she recently moved back to Jackson. Here, her childhood home has been converted into a museum, preserving the memories of her eight years with her father.
"I don't think I will ever come down and not have the pain," Evers-Everette said Thursday. "It has been 50 years and I'm learning how to put it to a certain point in my heart, in my head. And focusing on his life instead of his death has brought the joy back in celebrating his life, instead of always remembering the painful assassination and the blood."
Evers' killer was convicted of the slaying in 1994.
The news conference itself was punctuated with laughter and joy of the surviving Evers family, including Charles Evers, Medgar Evers' brother.
Nissan also presented a $100,000 donation to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute.
"This organization talks about and looks at youth education, diversity and racial reconciliation, and those are the same things Nissan looks at," said Jeffrey Webster, director of human resources for Nissan North America in Canton, near Jackson. He said the gift can be used however the institute sees fit.
This week, the lone survivor of the 1963 bombing of an Alabama church that killed four black girls said she wants millions of dollars in restitution and that she feels forgotten by history. Asked about the case, Evers-Williams said it's important to make sure that a wide range of civil rights figures are remembered.
"There are many people who suffered, who became disfigured, who lost homes, who lost other mates, et cetera, et cetera, who are never mentioned," she said. She said that the institute established in Evers' name seeks to draw attention to activists who been overlooked.
Asked what Medgar Evers would think about the events, Evers-Williams said: "I think Medgar would've been extremely pleased but he probably would have added: `It's not necessary to highlight me. Highlight the other people who are out there working.'"