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20 Nov 2011

Medgar Evers’ widow christens Navy ship

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November 20, 2011 Category: Diaspora Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Myrlie Evers christens a dry cargo ship named for her late husband by smashing a bottle of champagne against the hull during a ceremony Saturday at General Dynamics-NASSCO in San Diego.

(Photo by Charlie Neuman)


Back in the early 1990s, when he was governor of Mississippi, Ray Mabus made Myrlie Evers a promise that she doubted he would ever keep:


“I will do something at some point to see to it that Medgar Evers is remembered for the man he was,” Mabus told the widow of the World War II veteran and slain civil-rights leader.


Myrlie Evers said this week: “I thought he was just saying something to be nice. But he made good on his word.”


The promise was fulfilled last weekend when Myrlie Evers smashed a bottle of champagne against the hull of the 689-foot USNS Medgar Evers, christening a $500 million dry cargo ship at General Dynamics NASSCO on San Diego Bay. Mabus named the ship not long after he became secretary of the Navy.


Standing before a crowd that included civil-rights leaders such as Julian Bond and Vernon Jordan, Myrlie Evers said, “I will not have to go to bed ever again wondering whether anyone will remember who Medgar Evers is.”


Scores of Navy ships have been christened at NASSCO, the last major shipbuilder on the West Coast. But Saturday’s ceremony was an unusual and unflinching reminder of the segregation and other racial discrimination that gripped the Deep South.


Medgar Evers was a Mississippi native who joined the Army in 1943 and fought in France and Germany before making it back safely three years later.


“He was fortunate enough to come home, but he found that he was still a second-class citizen,” said his widow, now 78. “His father was still being called ‘boy.’ His mother was still being called ‘girl.’ Medgar could not register to vote. He tried, but he and his brother, Charles, were blocked.


“His family was visited one night by men in white robes. His father answered the door, and one of the men said, ‘Tell those little n—– boys of yours that they will never be able to vote. I can tell you this because Medgar related these stories to me. It was not with bitterness, but with anger and the determination to change things.”


Medgar Evers earned a college education, sold insurance and began working for the NAACP, peacefully fighting prejudice through voter registration drives. He also helped organize boycotts against companies that were believed to have discriminated against blacks. And he tried, unsuccessfully, to become the first black person to enroll at the University of Mississippi.


Evers became famous over time, especially for helping to uncover details about the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was killed after he allegedly flirted with a white woman.


Racial tensions continued to escalate, affecting Medgar and Myrlie Evers personally.


In May 1963, their home was firebombed. About a month later, on June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was shot in his driveway and died an hour later. White supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was convicted, more than 30 years later, of the murder. Two earlier trials, involving all-white juries, deadlocked.


Navy Secretary Mabus, a fellow Mississippi native, spoke extensively about Evers on Saturday, calling him a man who “fought in a principled and nonviolent way. … In a real sense, he set us all free. His life was a mighty blow against the chains of racism that bound us all for too, too long.”


Myrlie Evers took the podium moments later and talked about the lesser-known people who helped her husband advance civil rights. She stepped to the microphone about the time rain resumed falling at NASSCO.


“I can envision the rain drops being the tears from all of those people in this country who have fought so long and so hard to get where we are today. But those were not tears of sorrow. They were tears of joy. So … let the rain come down. It’s all right.”


Sources: Medgar Evers College, NAACP,, General Dynamics-NASSCO,

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