By Jueseppi B.
From The Washington Post:
President Obama has picked Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers, to deliver the invocation at his public swearing-in later this month. It is believed to be the first time a woman, and a layperson rather than a clergy member, has been chosen to deliver what may be America’s most prominent public prayer.
The inaugural committee Tuesday plans to announce that the benediction will be given by conservative evangelical pastor Louie Giglio, founder of the student-focused Passion Conferences, which draw tens of thousands of people to events around the world.
…. In a statement released by the inaugural committee, the president said the careers of Evers-Williams and Giglio “reflect the ideals that the Vice President and I continue to pursue for all Americans – justice, equality and opportunity.”
The contrasting choice of speakers are typical of a president who has walked a sometimes complicated path when it comes to religion — working to be inclusive to the point that critics at times have questioned his faith.
Read the entire story at The Washington Post.
Myrlie Evers-Williams (born March 17, 1933) is a civil rights activist and journalist who worked tirelessly to seek justice for the murder of her well-known civil rights activist husband Medgar Evers in 1963. In addition, Myrlie Evers-Williams ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from California, actively participated in and became chairwoman of the NAACP, and published several books on topics related to civil rights and her husband’s legacy.
Myrlie Louise Beasley is the daughter of James Van Dyke Beasley, a delivery man, and Mildred Washington Beasley, only sixteen years old when Myrlie was born on March 17, 1933, in her maternal grandmother’s home on Magnolia Street in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Myrlie’s parents separated when she just a year old; her mother left Vicksburg and had decided that Myrlie was too young to bring with her. Since her maternal grandmother worked all day in service, leaving her no time to raise a child, Myrlie was raised by her paternal grandmother, Annie McCain Beasley, and an aunt, Myrlie Beasley Polk. Both women were respected school teachers and they inspired her to follow in their footsteps. Myrlie attended the Magnolia school, took piano lessons, and performed songs, piano pieces or recited poetry at school, in church, and at local clubs.
Myrlie graduated from Magnolia High School [Bowman High School] in Vicksburg in 1950. During her years in high school, Myrlie was also a member of the Chansonettes, a girls’ vocal group from Mount Heroden Baptist Church in Vicksburg. In 1950, Myrlie enrolled at Alcorn A&M College, one of the only colleges in the state that accepted African American students, as an education major intending to minor in music. Myrlie is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
An incident on her first day on campus altered her plans; Myrlie met and fell in love with Medgar Evers, a World War II veteran several years her senior. The couple married on Christmas Eve of 1951. They would move to Mound Bayou, have three children, Darrell Kenyatta, Reena Denise, and James Van Dyke. In Mound Bayou, Myrlie worked as a secretary at the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Life with Medgar
When Medgar became the Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1954, Myrlie worked alongside him. Myrlie became his secretary and together they organized voter registration drives and civil rights demonstrations. She assisted him as he strove to end the practice of racial segregation in schools and other public facilities and campaigned for voting rights as many African Americans were denied this right in the South.
For more than a decade the Everses had fought for voting rights, equal access to public accommodations, the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, and for equal rights in general for Mississippi’s African American population. As prominent civil rights leaders in Mississippi, the Everses became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home in Jackson was firebombed in reaction to an organized boycott of downtown Jackson’s white merchants. The family had been threatened, and Evers targeted by the Ku Klux Klan.
Medgar Evers Murder
The violence reached its worst point the following year, when Medgar was gunned down by a sniper in front of his home on the evening of June 12, 1963. Myrlie Evers was home with the three children when gunshots rang out. The children dove to the floor as they had been taught. Myrlie rushed outside to find her husband bleeding from wounds in his back. Medgar Evers was shot and killed in front of his home by a white supremacist named Byron De La Beckwith.
Life After Medgar
The day of her husband’s murder, Myrlie’s life changed profoundly; she and her two oldest children met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House on June 20, 1963. After her husband’s murder, Myrlie fought hard to see Medgar’s killer brought to justice. It took approximately 30 years for justice to be served; Myrlie kept the case alive and pushed for Byron De La Beckwith to pay for his crime, which he did on February 4, 1994.
Besides her quest for justice, Myrlie rebuilt her life after her husband’s death. After 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 a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Pomona College. She spoke on behalf of the NAACP and co-wrote For Us, the Living, which chronicled her late husband’s life and work in 1967. She also made two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Congress in 1970. From 1968-1970 Myrlie was the director of planning at the center for Educational Opportunity at Claremont College.
From 1973-1975 Myrlie was the vice president for advertising and publicity at the New York based advertising firm, Seligman and Lapz. In 1975, she moved to Los Angeles to become the national director for community affairs for the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO). With ARCO she was responsible for developing and managing all the corporate programs. This included overseeing funding for community projects, outreach programs, public and private partnership programs and staff development. 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. In 1976, she married Walter Williams, a longshoreman and civil rights and union activist who had studied Evers and his work.
Myrlie continued to explore ways to serve her community and to work with the NAACP. Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley appointed her to the Board of Public Works as a commissioner in 1987. Myrlie Evers-Williams was the first black woman to serve as a commissioner on the board, a position she held for 8 years. Evers-Williams also joined the board of the NAACP. By the mid-1990s, the prestigious organization was going through a difficult period marked by scandal and economic problems.
Evers-Williams decided that the best way to help the organization was to run for chairperson of the board of directors. She won the position in 1995, just after her second husband’s death due to prostate cancer. As chairperson of the NAACP, Evers-Williams worked to restore the tarnished image of the organization. She also helped 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. With the organization financially stable, she decided to not seek re-election as chairperson in 1998. And, in that year, she was awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal.
After leaving her post as chairwoman of the NAACP, Evers-Williams established the Medgar Evers Institute in Jackson, Mississippi. She also wrote her autobiography, titled Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be (1999), and many readers were moved by her powerful story. Myrlie Evers-Williams has continued to preserve the memory of her first husband with one of her latest projects. She served as editor on The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches (2005).
Once again, President Of The United States, Barack Hussein Obama, has taken a step further into America’s history books.
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