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Civil Rights Leader Myrlie Evers Brings Message of Peace, Justice, Dialogue to Millsaps

 

Civil rights icon Myrlie Evers filled the Robert and Dee Leggett Special Events Center in the A. Boyd Campbell College Center on April 5 for the 2013 Rabbi Perry Nussbaum Lecture Series, urging students to embrace and recognize the history of social justice at Millsaps College, while remembering her past in the capital city. 


Dean Dr. S. Keith Dunn, Myrlie Evers, student Chelsea Wright, and Dr. Rob Pearigen pose after the Nussbaum Lecture

"Millsaps has stood tall since the very beginning of (civil rights) dialogue sessions in Mississippi," she said. "For those of you that are students here, enjoy each and every moment and take in all the knowledge that is provided to you."

The lecture series, which is dedicated to men and women who have stood against racial bigotry and religious prejudice, was endowed by Dr. John D. Bower, a renal pioneer, in 2008 in honor of Nussbaum, rabbi at Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson from 1954 until 1974.

Remembering her years in Jackson, Evers reflected on her husband's murder and the legacy he left for others after him. "The 50th anniversary of Medgar's assassination will take place on June 12. I can hardly believe it's been 50 years," she said. "But, I look and I see changes and I realize a price had to be paid, not just by him but also by so many people to move us forward to where we are. Where we can have dialogue with each other and not be afraid that our differences will keep us from communicating."

Evers is perhaps best known as the widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who in 1963 was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson. She waged a painstaking battle to keep her husband's memory and dreams alive and valiantly lobbied to bring his killer to justice. Her diligence eventually paid off when the assassin was brought to trial for a third time and finally, in 1994, was found guilty of the murder of Medgar Evers, more than 30 years after the crime.


Myrlie Evers speaks during the 2013 Rabbi Perry Nussbaum Lecture

The widow could have let anger take over after the events of that night in 1963, but her strength and faith didn't let her live a small life. Evers says she recognized that hatred is dangerous and destructive. The family moved from  Mississippi to California to get away from the reminders of Medgar's death, including a bullet hole in the refrigerator, and Evers knew revenge had to come in forms other than of rage. With a smile, Evers spoke about the poetic justice of learning that her husband's killer, Byron De La Beckwith, had a jail cell window facing a post office with Medgar Evers' name on it.

"If you must get back at people, do it by love and success. Reach out to others and help them understand that hatred is a killer," she said.

Myrlie Evers continues to work closely with the Medgar Evers Institute, its name having been changed by the board of directors in 2012 to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute to recognize Myrlie Evers' own work in social justice and equal rights. She will spearhead the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Assassination of Medgar Evers in June 2013.



Watch video of Evers speaking from WJTV.com

In January 2012, she assumed the position of distinguished scholar-in-residence at Alcorn State University in Lorman, the college where she and Medgar Evers met.

She was selected by President Barack Obama to offer the invocation at his second presidential inauguration on Jan. 21, 2013, the first woman and first lay person to be so honored.

In addition to Myrlie Evers, the series honored four other Nussbaum Laureates for their contributions to the civil rights movement in Mississippi and beyond. They are:

  • Dr. Jack Geiger, who has dedicated most of his career to the problems of health, poverty, and human rights. From 1965 until 1971, he was director of the first urban and first rural health centers in the U.S. in Boston and in the Mississippi Delta in Mound Bayou.
  • Dr. Alton B. Cobb, who served as Mississippi's chief health officer from 1973-1993. During his tenure, he and his staff at the Mississippi State Department of Health enacted the nation's most efficient way of getting baby formula into the hands of mothers who couldn't afford it. Also, during that time the state had the highest immunization rates and the lowest tuberculosis rates.
  • The late Joshua Morse III, dean of the University of Mississippi School of Law in the 1960s. He admitted the school's first black students, a move that led to the desegregation of Mississippi's legal profession and judiciary.
  • The late Robert Quarles Marston, a leading medical educator and researcher, who became dean of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in 1961. During his administration, the first black medical students were admitted and the first black professors were hired, which provided precedents for the peaceful racial desegregation of southern medical schools and teaching hospitals.