Medgar Evers, Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, was shot and killed 50 years ago on Wednesday. Here is the simple program for his funeral, held three days later in Jackson, Miss.
That night, Evers returned home late from a meeting. KKK member Byron De La Beckwith, hiding nearby with a hunting rifle, shot him in the back as he walked up his driveway.
As the NAACP’s official history of his life states, before his death Evers had been involved in investigations into the eight-year-old murder of Emmett Till, had coordinated new demonstrations and boycotts in Jackson, and had given a speech about the movement on television. As a result of these activities, he had received several threats on his life in the weeks leading up to his assassination.
Evers’ death, the first in a string of assassinations of beloved leaders during the 1960s, shocked the nation. Evers was a sympathetic figure: a veteran, a family man, and—as the program shows—heavily involved in his community through organizations religious and secular.
The story of Evers’ family’s heartbreak brought the Southern civil rights struggle into the national spotlight. Life magazine reported:
Evers, 37-year-old combat veteran of World War II, had known his life was in constant danger. Last month, after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at his house, he trained his family to hit the ground like infantrymen if they heard a suspicious sound.
A wrenching photo of Evers’ widow, Myrlie, and son Darrel at his funeral ran on the cover of Life on June 28, 1963.
Beckwith escaped punishment for the murder until 1994, when new evidence found that his previous trials had been marred by misconduct. He was convicted and given a life sentence. Beckwith died in prison in 2001.
Thanks to Andrew Salinas of Tulane’s Amistad Research Center.