OUR OPINION: Evers’ commemoration refreshes our viewpoint

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi boiled with tension, fear and hope 50 years ago this week because the opening events of what would become known as the Civil Rights Era had started, and nothing about breaking down racial barriers had been easy or pleasant
Before the week of June 9, 1963 was over a deeper level of hatred and unbridled violence on the part of white racists would be unleashed with the cold-blooded murder on June 12 of Medgar Wiley Evers, field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi, as he emerged from his car in the driveway of his Jackson home.
His murderer was Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist and fertilizer salesman from Greenwood. Beckwith struck at night, and like so many other cowards, shot Evers in the back using a 1917 Enfield rifle. The bullet exited Evers’ body and finally lodged in the kitchen of the modest Evers residence.
It was the first of the vicious stains that would mark the 1960s as one of the vilest episodes in American history. Before year’s end President John F. Kennedy would be struck by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, and in 1964 three young civil rights workers would be brutally and perversely murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen in Neshoba County.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would fall in April of 1968, followed that June by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Many white Mississippians, clinging desperately to a cause lost 100 years earlier, cheered each of those deaths.
This week, events in Mississippi commemorate Medgar Evers’ splendid life, his convictions about equality and his sacrificial life in their pursuit.
A little more than a year after Evers’ death Congress, at the behest of the first southern president of the 20th century, Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, passed the Civil Rights Act on July 2.
A year later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided powerful momentum in getting black people inside voting booths, assuring an electoral dismantling of segregation and shifting political alignments still in sway today.
Mississippians, more than some others, need to remember in detail and with passion what happened in our state before full rights of citizenship were assured for people regardless of race.
Jackson attorney John C. Henegan, a child of the 1960s who grew up in McComb, wrote in the journal of the Capital Area Bar Association earlier this year, “Consciously or subconsciously, the bullet that felled Evers reminded a nation of Jefferson’s foreboding prescription that ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ “… Within two weeks, Byron De La Beckwith was arrested and charged for the murder of Evers. Bill Waller, Hinds County District Attorney, put on what is still regarded as a brilliant prosecution of the State’s case, but two prosecutions ended in two mistrials. … In 1994, Beckwith was tried a third time for the murder of Evers. This time a jury convicted Beckwith with the State Supreme Court affirming his conviction. It should not be unfathomable – it should be understandable, even reasonable – why it is that for some people, reconciliation cannot begin without the closure of the process of justice.”
For many in our state, the process continues, and the torch must be carried forward.