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The Civil Rights Legacy of Medgar Evers

ED GORDON, host:

On June 12th, 1963, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot dead in the driveway of his Mississippi home. The assassination made Evers the first in a line of civil rights leaders to be cut down in the 1960s. His murder prompted President John F. Kennedy to ask Congress for a civil rights bill, which was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson the next year. But while his death has become legendary, his life of activism and his accomplishments have been somewhat overlooked, so says his widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams.

Mrs. MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS (Widow of Slain Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers): Every time I pick up a book about civil rights and civil rights leaders, and I will see Medgar has simply a sentence, I found that rather offensive as his widow and one who knew what he went through and the sacrifices he made.

GORDON: Indeed, in life Medgar Evers contributed a great deal to the civil rights movement, especially in his home state of Mississippi. In the face of tremendous pressure, Evers established several chapters of the NAACP along the delta. He was also the first to integrate what was then one of the most segregated institutions in the South, the University of Mississippi. And perhaps because of Evers' pioneering efforts in that state, today Mississippi has more African-American elected officials than any other state in the country.

Mrs. EVERS-WILLIAMS: I hope that people will be able to see him not only as a visionary, but someone who was a strategist as well, and be able to follow some of his actions and thinking and apply it to today.

GORDON: Medgar Evers died 42 years ago yesterday. Myrlie Evers-Williams has written a new book about her husband's life. We'll talk with her about it later in the week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.