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2013 Nussbaum Lecture to Feature Civil Rights Icon Myrlie Evers


Myrlie EversCivil rights icon Myrlie Evers will be the featured speaker for the 2013 Rabbi Perry Nussbaum Lecture Series, which is dedicated to men and women who have stood against racial bigotry and religious prejudice. She will give a speech entitled "Reflections" on April 5 at 12:30 p.m. in Robert and Dee Leggett Special Events Center in the A. Boyd Campbell College Center at Millsaps College. Her lecture is free and open to the public.

Dr. John D. Bower, a renal pioneer, endowed the series in 2008 in honor of Nussbaum, rabbi at Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson from 1954 until 1974.

Evers is perhaps best remembered 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.

When her husband became the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, Evers worked alongside him. In February 1995, she began her legendary tenure as chair of the NAACP after defeating the incumbent by one vote.

The NAACP was in disrepair and plagued with financial difficulties, scandal, and controversy. Evers' positive reputation among civil rights activists made her election a cause for renewed optimism among NAACP supporters. Through her unwavering vision as a leader and with determined spirit, she is credited with spearheading the operations that restored the Association to its original status as the premier civil rights organization in America.

She became the first chair-emeritus of that organization in 1998 when she retired to establish the Medgar Evers Institute, linking business, government, and communities to further human rights and equality.

Evers became a candidate to represent the 24th Congressional District of California in 1970. She went on to become the first black woman to head the Southern California Democratic Women's Division and was convener of the National Women's Political Caucus.

Her corporate career began in 1973 with a two year term with the New York firm, Selligman and Latz, Inc. where she held the position of vice president for advertising and publicity. For 10 years Evers worked for Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), serving first as the national director for community affairs, and later as director of consumer affairs. During her tenure at ARCO she developed the concept for the first corporate booklet on women in non-traditional jobs, "Women at ARCO." In 1988, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley appointed her to the five-member Board of Public Works, where she helped oversee a budget of nearly $1 billion. She was the first black woman to serve on the Board.

As an author, Myrlie Evers has captured the work and historical significance of the civil rights movement through several publications chronicling the life of Medgar Evers. In 1967, she co-wrote For Us, the Living with William Peters; and in 2006, with co-author Manning Marable, she penned The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters and Speeches.

In 1999, she published her personal memoirs, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, which charts her journey from being the wife of an activist to becoming a community leader in her own right.

In addition to holding 16 honorary degrees from leading colleges and universities, Evers is a recipient of numerous civil rights, human rights, and community awards. Her governance expertise has been recognized by national and international organizations. In 2007, as NAACP chair-emeritus, she led a delegation to Paris to present the Conseil Representatifs des Associations Noires (CRAN) with a recognition award in support of its efforts to achieve racial equality and social justice for black men and women in France. She has been the featured keynote speaker for renowned organizations such as the Milken Institute and TEDx. Augmenting her social justice advocacy work, she remains an often sought-after lecturer at colleges and universities.

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.

Balancing her passion for justice and equality with her love and training for music, she was privileged to have her diverse talent highlighted in a special invitational concert series at Carnegie Hall in December 2012.

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.

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.

In addition to the lecture, the series will also honor four 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.