A week before the 50th anniversary of the civil rights icon’s death, former President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder joined other dignitaries at Arlington National Cemetery to honor Medgar Evers where he was laid to rest.
Evers was shot in the back and killed by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith on June 12, 1963, as he and his family carried NAACP T-shirts that read ”Jim Crow Must Go” into their home.
His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, spoke at the event about her husband’s sacrifice and the importance of carrying on his legacy.
“I can hear Medgar’s voice saying, ‘I thank all of you for believing in me but it’s really not necessary. Just get out there and prove that you believe in me and that you believe in my country–which is our country,’” she said.
“We pay tribute to him and he will forever life in our hearts. And may we go beyond today and do what we can to build beyond his image,” she said. “Bring in the young people. Exchange ideas. See where we can go from this point to build the kind of America that Medgar believed in. To build the kind of America that he was willing to give his life for so that we can all one day be able to say, I played my part. Thank you, Medgar Evers, for playing yours.”
Clinton spoke about how the year of Evers’ murder “was an amazing year in the course of our nation’s struggle for a more perfect union,” and praised both Medgar and Myrlie for their civil rights work.
“Myrlie Evers-Williams has been able to do what I always thought was amazing. She has kept alive the memory and the meaning of Medgar Evers’ life,” he said. “We spend 99 and a half percent of our time fretting about the one half of a percent of us that’s different. We ought to spend, in memory of Medgar Evers, for the meaning of his life, a little bit more time thinking about what we’ve got in common and choose cooperation over control.”
The bipartisan event included Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, who praised Evers for being “a watchman on the walls” who helped expose his state’s “dark days” and insisting that Mississippi today “stands together with determination to create a brighter future for all its people.”
Attorney General Eric Holder, who has clashed with Governor Bryant over his state’s voter ID law, spoke at length about Evers important activist work, including his attempts to desegregate the University of Mississippi Law School and his fight against voter suppression.
“As our nation brought Medgar Evers to his rest–here, among so many of the heroes who preceded him in the struggle for freedom, equal rights, and equal justice–he was mourned not only by those, like his wonderful wife, Myrlie, and his NAACP colleagues, who knew and loved him–but by untold millions across the country,” he said. “Over the past 50 years, their actions and their dedication to continuing his unfinished work have reminded us that this nation was built, and it continues to be improved, by patriots like Medgar Evers.”
On Tuesday, President Obama met with the Evers family to commemorate the approaching 50th anniversary of his death. Earlier this year, she gave the invocation at President Obama’s second inauguration.
Myrlie Evers-Williams will join PoliticsNation on June 12, the 50th anniversary of her husband’s death, to discuss his legacy. Tune in at 6pm ET.