Medgar Evers widow speaks at Blackman

Medgar Evers widow speaks at Blackman

By James Partridge

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation last Wednesday brought a keynote speaker to Blackman Auditorium whose loss and hardship inspired her career as a civil rights activist.

Myerlie Evers-Willliams, a Mississippi native, suffered from bigotry and hatred in the racially divided south during the Civil Rights Movement. Her spirit was hardened by the 1963 assassination of her husband Medgar Evers, an activist in the movement and Mississippi State Field Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Motivated by the loss of her husband, Evers-Williams became an activist in her own right and rose to prominence, becoming the first female chair of the NAACP in 1995.

The convocation, featuring a talk by Evers-Williams, was held to honor the ideals of nonviolence and social justice that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embraced as a leader.

Those who attended were reminded that the work King started is far from complete.

“We are here to look forward to continuing what has been started,” said President Joseph Aoun as part of his welcoming remarks during the convocation.

Evers-Williams emphasized this theme in her speech, asking the audience, “What about you? What role are you playing in making your community, your state, your nation, this world a better place for each and every one of us? The apathy that we find amongst us is like a sore on our society,” she said.

Evers-Williams told students her husband’s death was a major turning point for her, spurring a vengeance that fueled her efforts. She said harnessing her emotions in a productive way catalyzed her career in public service.

“The only thing that kept me going, besides my three children, was vengeance,” Evers-Williams said. “I wanted society to pay. It didn’t make any difference what color a person was, I wanted society to pay because they were the ones that oppressed us and kept us under foot. I was ready to take a machine gun and go through the entire population.”

Yet Evers-Williams also recalled one of the last things Medgar said to her: “Myerlie, don’t hate. They’ll hate you, too,” she recalled. “You are the person who pays the price. Those people you hate don’t know it and most of those who know don’t care … Take that hatred and turn it into something positive.”

She reminded the audience to join those who “struggle for humankind, for compassion and a willingness to take risks, to take a stand on something that might not have been as favorable to the larger population.”

The event, which included a prayer by Rev. Viola Morris-Buchanan and a performance of the African-American Institute’s Unity Gospel Choir, was reminiscent of the religious faith that guided and strengthened King during his tenure as an activist.

“It’s important to be reminded of the great work and the great sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to advance the ideals of equality,” said Rogan O’Handley, president of the Student Government Association, who spoke at the convocation. “It ignites the spark inside of you that there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Middler Ryan Munro, a member of the Northeastern Black Student Association who also spoke during the program, said after the speech that it had an effect.

“Coming from someone who has seen everything from experience, witnessed everything, it really strikes you, really motivates you,” he said.

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