Civil rights leader, Mississippi native Medgar Evers posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Published 10:39 am Friday, May 3, 2024

Mississippi native and civil rights leader Medgar Wiley Evers was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday.

Evers, who was murdered by a Ku Klux Klan member outside his Jackson home in 1963, was honored by President Joe Biden at a ceremony in Washington.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest U.S. civilian honor awarded to individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Awardees are selected by the president. President Harry S. Truman selected the first Medal of Freedom recipient in 1946.

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“My heart is full from the news of this extraordinary honor. My beloved husband, Medgar, was the love of my life, my steadfast partner and a devoted, loving father,” Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, said in a statement. “To the world, he was a civil rights leader; to me and our three children, he was the world. Medgar balanced his monumental public role with a dedication to his family like no other.”

Myrlie Louise Evers-Williams, now 91, is a native of Vicksburg. She worked alongside her husband — and long after his death — as a civil rights activist. The couple had three children.

Evers was born in Decatur in 1925. He served as an Army sergeant in Europe during World War II and participated in the Normandy landings.

After returning home from the war, Evers attended Alcorn A&M — now Alcorn State University. In the early 1950s he became involved with several civil rights groups and eventually held several leadership roles. He recruited volunteers, led demonstrations, and organized voter registration drives in Mississippi.

In November 1954 he was named as the NAACP’s first field secretary for Mississippi.

In recognition of his role in the Civil Rights Movement, Evers was posthumously awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement, and he is featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Evers home in Jackson is now a national monument. Part of U.S. 49 in Jackson, as well as the city’s airport, are named in his honor. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a testament to Medgar Evers’ enduring impact on not only Mississippi but also the nation. Over 60 years after his death, his tireless pursuit of equality for African Americans in our state continues to resonate throughout generations,” said U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, whose district includes Warren County. “As someone deeply influenced by his legacy, I am honored to witness this recognition.”

Evers was one of 19 people who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday. The list included Democrat politicians Al Gore, Jim Clyburn, John Kerry and Michael Bloomberg; a half-dozen civil rights activists; and other notable stars from other fields including TV talk show host Phil Donahue, Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky and Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh.