By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Myrlie Evers-Williams says people praised her poise after her husband, Mississippi NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, was assassinated 50 years ago in the state. But she says she struggled with wanting revenge.
Evers-Williams, 79, said at a prayer luncheon Thursday in Jackson that her faith helped her find peace, and her daughter once reminded her that Medgar Evers had taught people not to hate.
Now, Evers-Williams said: “I am proud to be a Mississippian. And I dare anyone to challenge me on that point.”
Her comment drew sustained applause from more than 800 people at the Governor’s Prayer Luncheon sponsored by Mission Mississippi, a 20-year-old racial reconciliation group that works through Christian ministry.
Evers-Williams — who gave the opening prayer Jan. 21 at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration — said Thursday that friends in other parts of the U.S. have questioned her decision to move back to Mississippi in 2012 after she had lived for decades in California and Oregon.
Mississippi has a long history of difficult race relations, and it was 1994 before the state convicted a white sniper of killing Medgar Evers. That was 31 years after he was slain outside the family’s modest north Jackson home on June 12, 1963.
Evers-Williams, a Vicksburg, Miss., native, said Thursday that although there are still “enough negatives,” she sees racial progress in her home state, which has a 38 percent black population — the second-highest percentage of black residents in the U.S., behind only Washington, D.C. As evidence of changing times, she pointed to the racially mixed audience of business people, students, academicians and others at the Jackson Convention Complex.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said at the luncheon that he’s proud Evers-Williams moved back.
“Mrs. Evers, now that you’re here in Mississippi, I will say, ‘Our daughter’s home,'” Bryant said to applause from the audience.
Evers-Williams served as chairwoman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the mid-1990s. She recently sold her house in Bend, Ore. Since last year, she has been teaching and living on campus at Alcorn State University in rural Lorman. It was still called Alcorn A&M College when she and Medgar Evers first met there as students in the early 1950s.
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