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Civil rights leader to speak today at Fulton Chapel

 

A quote from Myrlie Evers-Williams on the James Meredith monument at the University of Mississippi between the J.D. Williams Library and the Lyceum reads “Yes Mississippi was ... but now Mississippi is.”

Evers-Williams speaks from experience. Nearly 50 years ago, her husband Medgar Evers was gunned down in their carport by staunch segregationist Byron De La Beckwith.

Most of the world was introduced to Evers-Williams as the widow of Evers on the cover of LIFE magazine.

The solemn photo shows a mother comforting her son at his father’s funeral. 

Evers-Williams, however, stands out in her own right.  

“She is known internationally for her work with civil rights and education,” said Andy Mullins, chief of staff to the chancellor and co-chair of the UM civil rights committee, which is overseeing the yearlong celebration of 50 years of integration at the university.

Evers-Williams served as the chairwoman of the NAACP in 1996 and will teach at the Medgar Evers Institute at Alcorn State University.

The university has worked with Evers-Williams before, sponsoring joint events with the William Winters Institute for Racial Reconciliation.  

Most notably, Evers-Wiliams was featured as the keynote speaker in 2002 for the 40th anniversary of Meredith’s enrollment.

“We’re delighted to have her back, and this is a real honor for the University of Mississippi,” Mullins said.

Charles Ross, chair of the civil rights subcommittee and director of the African-American studies program, said Evers-Williams has a personal tie to the university.

“Her husband’s life changed because he applied to the university,” Ross said.

Evers was the first known black person to apply to the Ole Miss in 1954, when he attempted to enroll in the law school. 

Denied admission, Evers would go on to become the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP.  

Ross explained that Evers was instrumental along with Constance Baker Motley in providing legal and financial support to Meredith.  

“She has vivid memories of the days leading up to integration and all the challenges that the university and state met trying to keep James Meredith out,” he said. “It’s good to have her back in the state of Mississippi, and we’re lucky to have her.”

Lauren Wright, junior public policy major, vice president of the Black Student Union and member of the civil rights subcommittee, said Evers-Williams’ visit encompasses everything the university is doing in terms of trying to move forward with racial reconciliation and diversity.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for Ole Miss students to actually see firsthand a civil rights leader,” she said.

Wright also said this is a great addition to the Black Alumni Reunion festivities being held this weekend.

Evers-Williams will speak at 4 p.m. in Fulton Chapel at the Day of Dialogue event commemorating 50 years of integration at Ole Miss.

The reunion will open with two panel discussions at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, “Opening the Closed Society” with former black student leaders including John Hawkins, the first black cheerleader at Ole Miss, at 1 p.m., and “The Evolution of Our Voice” with current and former members of the UM Gospel Choir. 

An awards banquet for black alumni will be held Friday evening in the ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss with Chancellor Dan Jones speaking and Meredith as a special guest.

A Greek step show will also be presented at the Gertrude C. Ford Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. 

A full list of events this weekend can be found at www.olemissalumni.com/blackalumni.