Wednesday, November 23, 2011

US Navy Honors Rights Leader Medgar Evers, Subject of New Biography

Here's a story that nicely follows up on news of Mary Dudziak's important work on African Americans and the military.  This month the United States Navy christened a new Navy cargo ship in honor of the slain Mississippi civil rights leader, Medgar Evers--a World War II combat veteran who served in the European theater. The ship, the USNS Medgar Evers, honors Evers' state NAACP leadership, voting rights activism, and efforts in support of the desegregation of 'Ole Miss.  Assassins took Evers' life in 1963. The Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi, spoke at the ceremony naming the vessel after Evers. For the first time, the Navy named a ship for a civil rights leader. Myrlie Evers, the leader's widow, had this to say about the development:

Former Mississippi Governor [and current Navy Secretary] Ray Mabus made a promise to me that he would do something to see that Medgar was remembered. Well, it came into fruition. As a result of the USNS Medgar Evers being built and christened, I feel as though I'm free.

Read more about the USNS Medgar Evers herehere, and here.

The christening of the ship coincides with the release of a new biography of Evers by Michael Williams (Mississippi State--history), entitled Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (Arkansas, Nov. 2011). Here is the publisher's description of the book.

Civil rights activist Medgar Wiley Evers was well aware of the dangers he would face when he challenged the status quo in Mississippi in the 1950s and ‘60s, a place and time known for the brutal murders of Emmett Till, Reverend George Lee, Lamar Smith, and others. Nonetheless, Evers consistently investigated the rapes, murders, beatings, and lynchings of black Mississippians and reported the horrid incidents to a national audience, all the while organizing economic boycotts, sit-ins, and street protests in Jackson as the NAACP’s first full-time Mississippi field secretary. He organized and participated in voting drives and nonviolent direct-action protests, joined lawsuits to overturn state-supported school segregation, and devoted himself to a career path that cost him his life.

This biography of an important civil rights leader draws on personal interviews from Myrlie Evers-Williams (Evers’s widow), his two remaining siblings, friends, grade-school-to-college schoolmates, and fellow activists to elucidate Evers as an individual, leader, husband, brother, and father. Extensive archival work in the Evers Papers, the NAACP Papers, oral history collections, FBI files, Citizen Council collections, and the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Papers, to list a few, provides a detailed account of Evers’s NAACP work and a clearer understanding of the racist environment that ultimately led to his murder.