Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the date when a quarter of a million Americans from across the United States converged upon Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Plans for this event began in 1962 when A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, suggested the idea of a mass gathering on Washington, D.C. to draw attention to the economic plight of the county’s African American population. The nation’s leading civil rights organizations sought this opportunity to encourage Congress to pass civil rights legislation under its consideration, and persuaded President John F. Kennedy to endorse the demonstration.
As plans progressed, Randolph charged noted civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin, with the arduous task of coordinating and directing the logistics for the march. Rustin and his crew of volunteers worked around the clock to make necessary arrangements as word of the upcoming march spread throughout the country, and thousands of anxious supporters prepared to make their descent on the nation’s capitol. On August 28, 1963, a crowd of 250,000 people, including nearly 450 members of Congress, gathered at Lincoln Memorial to listen to the day’s scheduled performances and speeches. Randolph along with Roy Wilkins, John Lewis and others delivered riveting speeches before Martin Luther King took his place at the podium and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Even though the March on Washington succeeded in both dramatizing and politicizing the need to secure federal legislation banning segregation and racial discrimination, it would be another year before civil rights legislation was signed by president Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1964 and became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Civil Rights Digital Library contains links to numerous collections and resources that feature the March on Washington; these are available at http://crdl.usg.edu/events/march_on_washington/
This week, the legacy of civil rights activist Medgar Evers is being observed nationally; he was assassinated on June 12, 1963.
After requesting the assistance of the NAACP to file a lawsuit against the University of Mississippi upon rejection by its all-white law school, Mississippi native Evers was hired as the first Mississippi field secretary for the organization, where he served from 1954 until his death in 1963. In his position, Evers became an effective and formidable leader by adopting direct action methods of civil rights demonstrations to supplement the strategy of the national NAACP’s numerous court challenges against segregation. During his leadership as NAACP field secretary, the organization’s officials helped publicize the Mississippi lynching of Emmett Till and protect witnesses who testified against Till’s murderers. Evers and the NAACP also played a key role in James Meredith’s desegregation of the University of Mississippi in 1962. In 1963, the year that Evers died, the NAACP had led efforts in Mississippi voter registration, attracted young people to the civil rights movement, and begun to organize mass demonstrations and boycotts in Jackson to protest against the city government’s failure to appoint a biracial commission to examine racial problems in the state’s capital.
Due to his prominent position, Evers and his family were regularly harassed and threatened. Amidst the momentum of the numerous civil rights demonstrations that he had helped organize, on the evening of June 12, 1963, he arrived home late after a meeting and was killed by white segregationist Byron De La Beckwith, who shot him in the back with a rifle. De La Beckwith was tried twice in 1964 for the murder of Evers, but both trials ended in hung juries; the jurors for both trials were all male, and all white. A third trial, based upon new evidence, was held in 1994. The jury for this was comprised of both African American and white jurors, and De La Beckwith was convicted of the first-degree murder of Evers; the verdict was upheld by Mississippi’s Supreme Court in 1997. De La Beckwith died in prison in 2001.
Evers, an Army veteran, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was awarded the NAACP’s Springarn Medal, that organization’s highest honor. Many authors have written about his life, Medgar Evers College was established in Brooklyn, New York, and numerous landmarks around Jackson, including the Jackson-Evers International Airport, have been named in his honor. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, remained committed to the civil rights movement, and served as the national chairperson of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998.
The Civil Rights Digital Library contains links to numerous archival collections, reference resources, and educator resources that feature Medgar Evers. These are available at http://crdl.usg.edu/people/e/evers_medgar_wiley_1925_1963/