On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights hero Medgar Evers, his widow Myrlie Evers-Williams says segregation has not disappeared.
“Jim Crow is alive, and it’s dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, my friend, instead of a white robe,” she said on PoliticsNation Wednesday.
She talked about the progress she’s seen in the last half-century–and current threats to that progress, like voter suppression.
“Look at some of the racist things that are still happening in America,” she said. “For instance when President Obama was reelected there was rioting at the University of Mississippi because of that. There are still deaths that take place. We look at those things that have happened to keep people from voting.”
“These negatives are not as pronounced as they were in the 50’s and 60’s because we don’t have people in the streets marching today,” she said. “But that’s serious.”
Evers-Williams became a civil rights leader in her own right after Medgar Evers’ death. She fought for decades to see his murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, brought to justice, and became the first Chairwoman of the NAACP.
When asked how she stood by her husband, despite the threats they dealt with as he pursued his activism, she had a simple answer.
“Love. I loved and respected Medgar tremendously,” she said. “He knew who he was. He was a veteran of World War II, he had seen many things happen in his area where he lived in Decatur, Mississippi, and had made a determination that he would do whatever he could to bring America around to the point of keeping its promises, because he had fought for the country and then had to come home and be a second-class citizen.”
“What happened was his determination to do whatever he could, register people, get them to vote, challenge the system of education and so many other things that needed attention. I came along with the job,” she said. ”And I hate to say it but I must, I wasn’t always there with him.”
Evers-Williams said she always knew retaliation was coming for the work that she and her husband did.
“We reached a point in our marriage where I challenged him about what he was doing and he replied to me, ‘Either you are with me or you aren’t.’ And I told him, ‘I’ll let you know when I make my decision.’”
Although separation was never on the table, she said they had serious conversations about balancing their family life and activist work.
She described also described the night of Medgar’s assassination in detail. Their children were awake, having stayed up at their father’s request to watch President Kennedy’s address to the nation. She expected him home at any minute when she heard the rifle blast.
To this day, the memory brings tears to her eyes. She wept last week at a memorial held at his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. ”There were tears, tears of sadness, wishing that Medgar had survived, but knowing full well that it was our duty and responsibility as well as others’ to carry the movement forward, and I certainly have felt that responsibility,” she said.
“Fifty years later, I might be a little tired,” she added. “I might be a little weary, but I can’t stop, because there’s too much at stake.”