50 years after Medgar Evers
June 5, 2013 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Starting on Jan 14th, 1963, with George Wallace's pledge for "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" there followed a year that included 930 demonstrations and over 20,000 arrests, the year ended with a conversation between Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson on December 3rd, only two weeks after the assasination of John F. Kennedy. It was the beginning of a long struggle, Susan Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi said it well with the statement, "It took grass roots — women and children and men — to lead the effort for social change, and it was much harder in Mississippi than other places. And that story needs to be told. It's not just this easy, Martin stood up and Rosa sat down and everybody's free."

Next Monday, June 11th, 2013, will be the 50th anniversary of JFK's announcement: "This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. This order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happen to have been born Negro."

Next Tuesday will be the 50th anniversary of the day, Medgar Evers was assassinated in the driveway of his home by Byron De La Beckwith. It took over 30 years for De La Beckwith to be convicted of the crime.

50 years later, the country is still struggling with issues related to civil rights, including the Supreme Court's examination of aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

(during the summer of 2013, NPR will be continuing its focus on the civil rights related events of 1963)
posted by HuronBob (8 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't seen the movie "Ghosts of Mississippi", which chronicles the second trial of De La Beckwith, it is worth a rental. I didn't really know anything about Evers as a kid, but that movie did a lot to further my interest in the issue.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:42 AM on June 5, 2013

including the Supreme Court's examination of aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

"Examination" is putting it lightly. The current Chief Justice argued against VRA re-authorization as a DOJ lawyer in the Reagan administration, all but two states bringing the suit are former Jim Crow, and there's plentiful evidence (sometime from their own mouths) that the modern GOP is in the middle of a massive effort to blatantly rig the game with voter suppression targeted at minorities and the youth under the cover of voter fraud "concerns" that have essentially no basis in reality.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:44 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

The original version of Eudora Welty's short story "Where is the Voice Coming From?" which directly deals with Evers's assassination, (first published in The New Yorker with names and other elements changed) was published in its original form for the first time on June 1. Also an NPR feature on the publication of the original version.
posted by kneecapped at 6:47 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama

I always thought that was a step too far and that the Federal Government should never have involved military forces (Kennedy federalized the Alabama national guard) in what was a civilian matter. I think this resonates today among conservatives and liberals in their mutual, albeit differing, distrust of government: Six years later Ohio National Guard troops would shoot dead four students at Kent State for doing nothing other than protesting.

The 1960s was a messed-up time.
posted by three blind mice at 7:04 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

At the time, Kennedy had few other practical options: the FBI is not a uniformed, identifiable force, and the posse comitatus prohibition would not have let him use conventional armed forces. But short of an identifiable federal intervention, nothing was going to make state officials comply with the court order. Racism was simply too entrenched in Alabama's political culture for that to happen.

Kennedy could perhaps have used the U.S. Marshals or brought a contempt charge against Wallace, but neither of those options would have expediently enforced the court order nor would they have avoided the constitutional argument. Marshal had already refused to move when confronted by U.S. Marshals, which was what led to the federalization of the Guard. Even if those had worked, someone would be here complaining about the use of the Marshals as a domestic military or about the use of contempt charges to quash the powers and rights of states governments.

I suppose we could float some counterfactual where everyone has a nice, long conversation, but then you've basically given up on the idea that the courts are already a forum for settling such issues. And, of course, those students get to twist in the wind while the federal government plays procedural games with an avowedly, intransigently racist state government.

Defenses of proceduralism as a cure-all seems to me to be quite close to the category of bizarre counterfactual arguments that the South would eventually have gotten over racism if not for the nastiness of the federal government, an argument that requires both a considerable leap of the imagination given what actually did happen and further involves not particularly caring about minority populations in the imaginary (and likely infinite) interim.

So, yeah, the 1960s was a messed-up time, but not necessarily because of federal vs. state jurisdiction. More because then, as now, "states rights" is often a racist dogwhistle and an excuse to ignore oppression.
posted by kewb at 8:01 AM on June 5, 2013 [14 favorites]

It was the assassination of Medgar Evers that inspired one of the most thoughtful and profound American political songs (more often referred to as *protest* songs, though I don't care for that label) that I know of. It's this one:

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
’Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ’neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:13 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think this resonates today among conservatives and liberals in their mutual, albeit differing, distrust of government

I think the difference between protecting students and shooting them kinda breaks the symmetry and equivalence there. And if a Democratic politician had made the same statement that you just did, that current conservative anti-government sentiment is rooted in resentment over being forced to accept African-Americans as full and equal citizens, there would be howls all over Fox news over the slander.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:04 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

The court has spoken, and it's not good news.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:39 AM on June 25, 2013

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