At ASU’s big day, Evers nudges students to persevere

Published 11:45 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

LORMAN — Perseverance is the key, Myrlie Beasley Evers, a civil rights activist and widow of Medgar Evers, told a Founder’s Day audience at Alcorn State University Tuesday.

“Don’t give up so easily on things that you believe in because there are roadblocks,” said the 78-year-old Vicksburg native. “If you are really and truly dedicated and willing to give, you will do what is necessary for a positive change. I believe the students at Alcorn University are ready, willing and able to face, not only today, but the future.”

Evers, who lives in Claremont, Calif., gave the keynote address during the Founder’s Day Convocation, which celebrated the 140th anniversary of the oldest public historically black land-grant college in the country.

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Earlier in the day, she and family members participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication of the Medgar Wiley Evers Heritage Village, a housing complex of four residence halls that opened in August 2010.

When he took the helm in January, ASU President Dr. M. Christopher Brown II returned the tradition of observing Founder’s Day, a tradition not observed, college officials said, “for a number of years.”

“It’s very important — just like we mark birthdays — for any organization to monitor that date founded because it becomes a landmark that helps us remember the history as we build new history,” said Brown, ASU’s 18th president.

The institution was founded in 1871 and named for then-Gov. James Lusk Alcorn, who died that year. It was called Alcorn University until 1878, when the name changed to Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College. The name was changed to Alcorn State University in 1974.

In the audience Tuesday were City of Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield and Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees chairman Zelmarine Murphy, a 1966 and 1985 graduate of ASU.

“It’s extremely important we recognize the legacy of Alcorn from its humble beginnings to where it is now,” she said.

During her address at Oakland Memorial Chapel, Evers shared personal stories of while a student at ASU in 1950 and her life with Medgar Evers.

She attended ASU for two years, but completed a bachelor’s in sociology at Pomona College in Southern California in 1968.

“I walked in this building today and I felt chills run up and down my spine because I remember the time when I was on this campus,” she said.

For a half hour, she spoke directly to the students.

“I know it is a different time, but it is a time to encourage,” she said. “It’s a time to give without expecting anything back. It’s a time to reach out to each other — to learn how to be creative, to address some of the same problems that we have had over and over and over again.”

She and Medgar Evers, a field representative for the NAACP when he was gunned down at his Jackson home on June 12, 1963, together were advocates for positive social changes during the 1950s and ’60s. In 1954, they opened the first NAACP state office.

Years later, from 1995 until 1998 — while she was married to her second husband, Walter Williams, who died in 1995 — Evers was chairman of the country’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

After speaking Tuesday, Evers was given the Alcorn Bravery Award, which recognizes an individual for public service or as an agent for social change.

Additionally, Medgar Evers was awarded posthumously an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Their daughter, Reena Evers-Everette, accepted the recognition.

“He was always an advocate for education and knowledge,” said Evers-Everette. “To be honored at the highest level of education and humane letters, I wanted to raise it up and say, ‘Here, Daddy, you did it.’”

Other award winners were: Dr. Rudolph E. Waters Sr., the Hiram R. Revels Achievement Award; James Charles Evers, Medgar’s brother, the Levi R. Rowan Heritage Award; Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds, the Oakland Memorial Chapel Award; and Jake Ayers Sr. and Stephen LaTreal McNair, both posthumously, the Presidential Citation for Excellence.