June 12, 1963: Medgar Evers is assassinated.
In the early morning, just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s speech on national television in support of civil rights, Evers pulled into his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go,” Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle, which also ricocheted into his home. He staggered several feet before collapsing. He died at a local hospital 50 minutes later.
Mourned nationally, Evers was buried on June 19 in Arlington National Cemetery, where he received full military honors before a crowd of more than 3,000.
On June 21, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the White Citizens’ Council (and later of the Ku Klux Klan), was arrested for Evers’ murder. District Attorney and future governor Bill Waller prosecuted De La Beckwith. Juries composed solely of white men deadlocked on De La Beckwith’s guilt twice that year.
In 1994, 30 years after the two previous trials had failed to reach a verdict, De La Beckwith was brought to trial based on new evidence. Bobby DeLaughter was the prosecutor. During the trial, the body of Evers was exhumed from his grave for autopsy.
De La Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994, after having lived as a free man for much of the three decades following the killing (he was imprisoned from 1977 to 1980 for conspiring to murder A. I. Botnick). De La Beckwith appealed unsuccessfully, and died at age 80 in prison in January 2001.
Medgar Wiley Evers was an African American civil rights activist involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi. After returning from overseas military service in World War II and completing his secondary education, he became active in the civil rights movement. He became a field secretary for the NAACP.
His assassination and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music, and film.
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