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Fri, 03.17.1933

Myrlie Evers-Williams, Administrative Activist born

Myrlie Evers-Williams

*Myrlie Evers-Williams was born on this date in 1933.  She is a Black civil rights activist, journalist, and administrator. 

She was born Myrlie Louise Beasley in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She was the daughter of James Van Dyke Beasley, a delivery man, and Mildred Washington Beasley, who was 16 years old. Her parents separated when she was just a year old.  Myrlie was raised by her paternal grandmother, Annie McCain Beasley, and an aunt, Myrlie Beasley Polk. Both women were schoolteachers, and they inspired her to follow in their footsteps.  

She attended the Magnolia school, took piano lessons, performed songs, and piano pieces, or recited poetry at school, church, and local clubs. Williams graduated from Magnolia High School in 1950. During her years in high school, she was also a member of the Chansonettes, a girls’ vocal group from Mount Heroden Baptist Church in Vicksburg. In 1950, she enrolled at Alcorn A&M College as an education major, intending to minor in music.  Williams is also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

On her first day of school, Williams met and fell in love with Medgar Evers, a World War II veteran eight years her senior. The meeting changed her college plans, and the couple later married on Christmas Eve of 1951, moved to Mound Bayou, and had three children, Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke.  In Mound Bayou, Williams worked as a secretary at the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. When Medgar Evers became the Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1954, Williams worked alongside him.  Evers-Williams became his secretary and organized voter registration drives and civil rights demonstrations.  She assisted him as he worked to end the practice of racial segregation in schools and other public facilities, and as he campaigned for voting rights, many Blacks were denied this right in the South.  As prominent civil rights leaders in Mississippi, the Evers became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism.  

In 1962, their home in Jackson, Mississippi, was firebombed in reaction to an organized boycott of downtown Jackson’s white merchants. The family had been threatened, and the Ku Klux Klan targeted Evers.  Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith, a White Citizens' Council member.  After Byron De La Beckwith's second trial in 1967, she moved with her children to Claremont, California, and emerged as a civil rights activist in her own right.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Pomona College.  She spoke on behalf of the NAACP, and in 1967 she co-wrote For Us, the Living, which chronicled her late husband's life and work.  She also made two unsuccessful bids for U.S. Congress.  

From 1968 to 1970, Evers was planning director at the Center for Educational Opportunity for the Claremont Colleges. In 1975, she moved to Los Angeles to become the national director for community affairs for the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO).   In 1976, Evers married Walter Williams, a longshoreman, civil rights, and union activist who had studied Evers and her work.  They moved to Bend, Oregon, in 1989. Williams died in 1995.  She helped secure money for many organizations, such as the National Woman’s Educational Fund, and worked with a group that provided meals to the poor and homeless.  Evers-Williams continued to explore ways to serve her community through the NAACP.  She joined the board of the NAACP. as the organization was going through a difficult period marked by scandal and economic problems.  She became chairperson of the board of directors in 1995, just after her second husband’s death due to prostate cancer.

As chairperson, Evers-Williams worked to restore the tarnished image and improve its financial status, raising enough funds to eliminate its debt.  Evers-Williams received many honors for her work, including being named Woman of the Year by Ms. Magazine; she decided not to seek re-election as chairperson in 1998.  In that same year, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal. After leaving her post as chairwoman of the NAACP, Evers-Williams established the Medgar Evers Institute in Jackson, Mississippi, and wrote her autobiography titled Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be (1999).  She also served as editor on The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches (2005).   

In 2009, Evers-Williams received the National Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.  Ebony magazine named Evers-Williams as one of the "100 Most Fascinating Black Women of the 20th Century." She has received seven honorary doctorates. In 2012, Alcorn State University announced that Evers-Williams would serve as a distinguished scholar-in-residence.  On January 21, 2013, she delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of Barack Obama.  

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