Tigers have a rare opportunity to hear from someone who helped shape the civil rights movement in the 1950s and improve U.S. race relations. Myrlie Evers-Williams is coming to Mizzou as this year's MU Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. featured speaker.
The 81-year-old activist and author, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was chair of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998. She's the recipient of the National Freedom Award and seven honorary doctorates. Ebony magazine named her one of the “100 Most Fascinating Black Women of the 20th Century.”
Before you meet her, do your homework. Watch Ghosts of Mississippi, the feature film based on Evers-Williams' story, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, in Leadership Auditorium, MU Student Center. Dr. Wilma King, chair of the Department of Black Studies, will lead a discussion.
Prepare to be inspired. Evers-Williams can teach us a thing or two about:
She spent three decades pursuing justice.
After her husband, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was assassinated in front of the family's home in 1963, Evers-Williams worked tirelessly to bring his killer to justice. White supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of the murder in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison. He died in 2001.
2. Shattering the glass ceiling.
She was the first woman elected chair of the NAACP.
Evers-Williams began working for the NAACP in 1954, registering black voters and demonstrating for desegregation in the South. She became its first chairwoman in 1995. At President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, in January 2013, Evers-Williams became not only the first woman but also the first layperson to deliver the invocation.
3. Civil service.
She has served her community locally and nationally.
In 1970, one year after Shirley Anita Chisholm of New York became the first black U.S. Congresswoman, Evers-Williams made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. In 1987 Evers-Williams became the first black woman to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works. While working in the corporate world, she secured funding for community organizations that support education for women and meals for low-income people.
4. Putting it in writing.
She's an author and editor.
Evers-Williams edited Medgar Evers’ autobiography, A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through his Writings, Letters, and Speeches, penned her own autobiography, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, and co-authored or contributed to several other books about race in America, including For Us, the Living. She has worked in journalism, advertising and public affairs.
5. Paying it forward.
She's an educator.
In 1988, Evers-Williams founded the Medgar Evers Institute to carry on her late husband's legacy. In 2012, its board of directors changed the name to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute, committed to economic, social and political justice. Evers-Williams is now a distinguished scholar-in-residence at Alcorn State University in Mississippi.
Read up: The Mizzou Store will sell Evers-Williams' books at the Missouri Theatre the night of her talk.
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