Many of the characters in A Thousand Never Evers are deeply moved by the life and death of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. To learn more about Mr. Evers, I spoke with Minnie White Watson, the curator of the Medgar Evers House and Museum in Jackson, Mississippi.
I met Medgar when I was a freshman in college. He was Field Secretary for the Mississippi NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) at that time. He came to the school I was attending to talk to the students.
He talked about the rights we had as citizens of the United States, and the importance of education and voting. When talking to us, he posed questions such as, “Are you a registered voter? If not, why aren’t you? Have you ever tried to register? If not, why haven’t you tried?” Before we could answer those questions, he asked, “Why aren’t you holding some of the jobs downtown that the whites are holding?” When we answered, “We’re not allowed,” he asked, “Why aren’t you allowed? You should be allowed.” He wanted to know we were at least trying to make some changes here.
His questions made me see things in a different manner, think in a different way—outside of the box. He had a profound effect on my life, so much so that I wanted to become an even more productive person by getting my education, registering to vote, and by telling my mother, friends, and others about the NAACP and the importance of becoming a member. Meeting him made me more aware of the injustices in life.
When you ask most people in the South, especially young people, about civil rights advocates, right away they’ll name Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosie Parks and Malcolm X. But Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer did more for Mississippi in terms of advocating civil and human rights than anyone else. His story deserves to be told. We’re talking about a man who lost his life for simply trying to earn what was rightfully his—those rights that he told us “were guaranteed to every United States citizen.” All he wanted was for his kids to have just what any other child had—a quality education, a nice home, and a decent job.
Most people are surprised and moved when they see and hear about the conditions under which Medgar and his family actually lived. Most of the neighbors never really accepted them, not because they didn’t like them, but because they were afraid of Medgar’s politics. According to Mrs. Evers, the kids couldn’t play outside without being harassed. Their house did not have a front door—a change in the design by Medgar for safety reasons. Their house did not have a house number. The kids as well as the Evers slept on the floor. People would pass by and throw things on their house; the house was shot into twice. And a Molotov cocktail was hurled under the carport one night. They lived that way until Medgar was shot and killed in his driveway in June of 1963.
I think he would be somewhat disappointed in some of our young people because it’s like they’ve dropped the ball. He probably would ask, “What’s with all the hate and violence?” He probably would say, stop all of the foolishness and accept the challenges before you. There are many worthy causes that you can be part of. Select one and stand and fight for it. Your services are needed in so many ways—become a big brother/sister to someone, become mentors for others and stop killing one another.
One of the most important lessons we can learn from Medgar’s life is that one ordinary individual, when committed and determined, can do extraordinary things. You must be willing to sacrifice for what you believe in, maybe not to the point of losing your life, but you must be willing to give your all for what you believe in.