Thursday, June 12, 2003
"If I die, it will be for a good cause." These fateful words were uttered by Medgar Evers—who died to help save Mississippi from its sins against black people. Now, in 2003, 40 years after his assassination, the Medgar Evers Institute is continuing the teachings of its namesake. Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, told me at the institute on May 23 that she established it here a year ago as a means of "advocating proactive social change by inspiring and educating youth on emerging issues." She added, "It continues his work in a positive, progressive and proactive way."
Some might question why the woman who took her three children and moved to California the year after her husband's murder would now come on home, so to speak, to help a state that didn't convict her husband's murderer for 30 years—and then only with pressure from her. But Evers-Williams—who lives in Bend, Ore., with her second husband—says her former husband's papers and legacy belong here in the state that he loved and worked to improve. The Vicksburg native, and president emeritus of the NAACP, could have established the institute anywhere, but she wanted it in the city where Evers was martyred. In part, she wants to help the state and the city improve this legacy and standing outside its borders. "The institute brings positive attention to Jackson," she said.
Evers-Williams handed over her late husband's papers hoping for a "repository where scholars, and others from around the country could come and study Medgar's teachings." And the institute can keep the passions of the first man she loved from fading away. "Also," she continued, "the institute also keeps Medgar Evers' work alive…which ultimately keeps history alive."
The institute is meant to, more than anything, encourage young people of all races to learn, experience and take a proactive part in continuing the work of Medgar Evers and the Civil Rights Movement. Evers-Williams hopes it will build lasting partnerships with other social institutions and create a genuine bond with the community.
The personal papers of such a pivotal person do more than offer a research outlet; they allow people to draw their own meanings directly from Evers' writings, tapes of speeches, even love letters to his wife. It helps those, like me, born decades after the movement get inside the mind of a person and understand the reasoning behind the ideals for which he ultimately gave his life. Textbooks and other secondary sources can only go so far; the primary source, however, can be synonymous with a gold mine.
It can, quite simply, continue the difference that Evers made with his life, and his death. "Twenty years from now," said Delores Bolden-Stamps, executive director of the institute, "the Medgar Evers Institute will be perpetuous, relevant and inclusive and continuous in addressing any issues that would cause any segment of the population to be disenfranchised."
The Medgar Evers Institute is at 175 East Capitol St. Call 355-3411.