Fifty years after civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers was murdered, his widow says she’s proud to continue his work and honor his legacy by giving the invocation at President Obama’s second inauguration. “I’m just so appreciative, so thankful,” Myrlie Evers-Williams said on PoliticsNation. “I never imagined that this would happen in my wildest dreams.”
Myrlie and her husband Medgar had been working in the civil rights movement for years. He served as the NAACP’s first Mississippi field officer; together they fought to desegregate schools and earn voting rights. Medgar was shot and killed on June 12, 1963.
Evers-Williams continued that work while raising their three children. She battled to see her husband’s killer brought to justice–Byron de la Beckwith was convicted more than 30 years after the murder–and fought hard for the civil rights movement, eventually becoming chairperson of the NAACP.
The inauguration was not meant to be Evers-Williams first major speech in Washington. She had been scheduled to speak at the historic March on Washington, but her husband was shot only months before and she could not bring herself to speak. “For years I thought, I’ll never be able to do anything like that again–and here we are 50 years later, I’ve been asked to deliver the invocation.”
When asked what advice her husband might give about the inaugural invocation, she remembered a conversation they had not long before his death, when he already knew his life might be in danger. “I said ‘Medgar. I can’t make it without you. I’m not strong enough.’ And he said ‘You are. You must believe in yourself. You will be all right.’”
For the invocation, she hopes to conjure the spirit of her husband and other civil rights leaders, and to assess honestly where she thinks the country is today. “Even though there were so many who fought for the right to vote, all we have to do is look back on what happened a couple months ago [during the election], and all those things that were done to make it difficult, particularly for minorities to register and vote,” she said. “We are passed the point where we have to count the number of beans in a jar, we are passed the point where we have to work so hard to pay three dollars for a poll tax, but it sends a message to America that even though we have moved forward, be aware and guard your rights, because there are different methods of disenfranchisement.”
The pressure of the moment aside, nothing can diminish the pride she has in the “cherished” opportunity. “I feel even more of an American now than I think I did when Medgar was buried at Arlington Cemetery.”