On June 12, 1963, civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated for his efforts to overturn segregation in Mississippi. Fifty years later, President Barack Obama met with Evers’ widow, now Myrlie Evers-Williams, and the Evers children and grandchildren in the Oval Office before the official ceremony commemorating his death.
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, said the meeting with the Evers family “was a deeply poignant moment particularly timed on the same day the president appointed Judge Robert Leon Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court.” During a phone interview, Jarrett said it was “a special day!” She explained: “To see Mrs. Evers and her family in the Oval Office spending a private moment with the president demonstrates ‘that the royal arch of the universe is long but it does bends towards justice,’ to quote Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Jarrett said President Obama told Evers that the death of her husband “turned tragedy into a rallying call. The fact that he is buried in Arlington [National] Cemetery demonstrates that he is a warrior of justice.” Medgar Evers was a World War II veteran who fought in Normandy, France, and in Germany during the war.
The Oval Office meeting with the president and the Evers family was punctuated by a gift. Mrs. Evers acknowledged that her son, James Van Evers, presented President Obama with two black and white portrait originals. Jarrett said one portrait was of Rosa Parks and the other was of Coretta Scott King with Betty Shabazz and Myrlie Evers, three of the widows of the Civil Rights Movement. Both photos were inscribed.
Jarrett said the president is planning to have the portraits mounted and placed in his “private office.”
This is Evers’ second meeting with the president this year. She spoke with the Obamas earlier this year as she delivered the invocation at his second inauguration in January 2013.
At the Medgar Evers Memorial Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, which included former President Bill Clinton, NAACP President Ben Jealous, Roland Martin, other dignitaries and members of the United States Armed Forces, Attorney General Eric Holder told the gathering “we come together, on our nation’s most hallowed ground, to celebrate the memory—and pay tribute to the profound sacrifices—of one of America’s greatest champions for equality, opportunity, and justice.
“Although half a century has passed since Medgar Evers was taken from us—far too suddenly, and far too soon—today’s ceremony presents an important opportunity to recommit ourselves, and our nation, to the principles that he lived and died to defend.
“It provides a chance to ensure that his contributions, and his remarkable leadership, are remembered for generations to come. And it calls each of us to lift up the legacy of a man who stood at the forefront of the American Civil Rights Movement; an early pioneer whose vision continues to inspire us; and a trailblazer whose courageous actions—often in the face of grave danger—helped lay the foundation for much of the progress our nation has seen over the last five decades.
“On what was to be the last day of his life—June 12, 1963—Medgar Evers must have been encouraged to see such progress capture national headlines, when, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., two brave young students, my future sister-in-law, Vivian Malone, and James Hood, accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Nick Katzenbach and members of the National Guard, stepped past Gov. George Wallace to integrate the University of Alabama.”
April Ryan | OW Contributor