Civil rights activist to speak Jan. 23

BOWLING GREEN, O.—The rifle shot that rang out in the driveway of her home in 1963, killing her husband, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, propelled Myrlie Evers into a lifetime of activism against racism and violence in this country and abroad.

Now Evers-Williams will bring her message of "Leadership by Action and Not by Design" to Bowling Green State University. Her free talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 in the Lenhart Grand Ballroom of the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. It is one of a number of campus events in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. Overflow seating for the talk will be available in the Union Theater.

The event is open to the public, and seating is first-come, first-served.

Evers-Williams is the first woman to chair the NAACP, from 1995-98, and the author of "Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be."  

Born in Vicksburg, Miss., in 1933, Evers-Williams met her future husband when they were students at what was then Alcorn A&M College (now Alcorn State University). In 1954, Evers was named the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP. She became his secretary, and together they organized voter registration drives and civil rights demonstrations. Their position made them targets for segregationist violence and, when Evers organized a 1962 boycott of white merchants in downtown Jackson, Miss., the couple's home was firebombed.

In a televised speech on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy called for racial harmony and announced he would submit new civil rights legislation to Congress, provoking the wrath of virulent segregationists. The following night, when Medgar Evers pulled into his driveway, he was shot in the back.

Evers-Williams kept up her quest to bring to justice the segregationist Byron De La Beckwith, who had twice been tried for the crime but was set free by deadlocked, all-white juries.

In the early 1990s, she persuaded Mississippi prosecutors to reopen the case. With more witnesses now willing to testify against De La Beckwith and a mixed-race jury, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001.

Following her husband's murder, Evers-Williams moved her family to California, where she completed her college degree, in 1967 co-wrote a book about Medgar, "For Us, the Living , " and continued to speak publicly on behalf of the NAACP. She married her second husband and in 1988 became the first black woman to be named to Los Angeles' five-member Board of Public Works, overseeing a billion-dollar budget.

Weeklong celebration

Kicking off next week's events, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21), a community service project linking the Bowling Green Teen Center and the Wood County Senior Center will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Wood County District Public Library, 251 N. Main St.

The event will begin in the campus ballroom and proceed, as a peace march, to the library, where teens and seniors will create art around the theme of what civil rights means to them, and then share a celebratory lunch at the Senior Center, 305 N. Main St. Their work will be displayed during Evers-Williams's speech. The project is coordinated by the BGSU Martin Luther King Legacy Committee and Wood County AmeriCorps.

The movie "Ghosts of Mississippi," directed by Rob Reiner and starring Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods and Craig T. Nelson, will be shown several times this week and next in the Union Theater. The film is based on the book by Maryanne Vollyers and depicts the assassination of Medgar Evers. Screenings will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 15), 8 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 19), 2 p.m.
Jan. 21 and 7 p.m. Jan. 22.

Evers-Williams's visit is organized by the cross-campus Martin Luther King Legacy Committee and made possible through the support of the BGSU vice presidents, the Black Student Union, the Center for Multicultural and Academic Initiatives, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and the University Activities Organization.

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(Posted January 14, 2008)

Updated: 12/02/2017 01:11AM