Medgar Evers

$24.95 $18.71

Mississippi Martyr
Michael Vinson Williams
978-1-55728-646-8 (paper)
978-1-61075-487-3 (ebook)
978-1-61075-712-6 (audio)
August 2011


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Civil rights activist Medgar Wiley Evers was well aware of the dangers he would face when he challenged the status quo in Mississippi in the 1950s and ‘60s, a place and time known for the brutal murders of Emmett Till, Reverend George Lee, Lamar Smith, and others. Nonetheless, Evers consistently investigated the rapes, murders, beatings, and lynchings of black Mississippians and reported the horrid incidents to a national audience, all the while organizing economic boycotts, sit-ins, and street protests in Jackson as the NAACP’s first full-time Mississippi field secretary. He organized and participated in voting drives and nonviolent direct-action protests, joined lawsuits to overturn state-supported school segregation, and devoted himself to a career path that cost him his life.
This biography of an important civil rights leader draws on personal interviews from Myrlie Evers-Williams (Evers’s widow), his two remaining siblings, friends, grade-school-to-college schoolmates, and fellow activists to elucidate Evers as an individual, leader, husband, brother, and father. Extensive archival work in the Evers Papers, the NAACP Papers, oral history collections, FBI files, Citizen Council collections, and the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Papers, to list a few, provides a detailed account of Evers’s NAACP work and a clearer understanding of the racist environment that ultimately led to his murder.

Michael Vinson Williams is assistant professor of history and African American studies at Mississippi State University.

“A well-written and informative installment in a prolific civil rights scholarship. . . . an accessible volume for a wide range of historians.”
—Hayden McDaniel, H-Net
“The first substantial scholarly biography of Medgar Evers…. Will be the standard reference for some time to come.”
Journal of Southern History
“An important and readable study of this seminal leader and the history of the civil rights movement.”
Publishers Weekly
“Williams’s work tops what have been too few head-on examinations of the substance and significance of this martyr’s sacrifice, a man who demonstrated the truth he liked to repeat: “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” General readers and scholars will benefit from reading this work…”
Library Journal, Nov 2011
“Masterful… Williams’s great achievement here is in recognizing that Evers was more than just a symbol of resistance. With Mississippi Martyr, he has written the seminal work on the life of Medgar Wiley Evers.”
—Brent Riffel in Arkansas Review, 2012
“Mississippi State professor pens first biography of civil rights icon Medgar Evers” – read the article at the Columbia Dispatch

“In this well-grounded inquiry into Mississippi’s heart of darkness, Williams offers an essential reading of the short life and tragic times of Medgar Evers, the modest, heroic freedom fighter who, perhaps more than any other, helped transform the nation’s most fiercely racist state.”
—Neil McMillen, Bancroft Prize-winning author of Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow
“Americans remember Medgar Evers—if they remember him at all—as the black leader gunned down the night President Kennedy made his famous civil rights speech. But Evers was much more than that, as Michael Williams makes clear in this marvelous biography. Long before the TV cameras and newsmen descended on the Magnolia State, Evers was risking his life on the back roads of Mississippi, organizing local people to take charge of their destiny. A hero and a martyr, Evers was also a complicated man torn between his activist impulses and the conservative mandates of his NAACP bosses in New York. Williams captures Medgar Evers in all his complexity in this well written, solidly researched, important book.”
—John Dittmer, Bancroft Prize-winning author of Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
“Michael Williams’s book provides the first scholarly full-length treatment of this iconic Mississippi civil rights leader, and it is a fitting tribute, providing the depth, detail, and texture hitherto missing from Evers’s life story.”
—John A. Kirk, chair and Donaghey Professor of History, University of Arkansas at Little Rock