Civil rights activist, author and former NAACP Chair Myrlie Evers-Williams will give the convocation address at Fisk University’s commemoration of the legacy and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the Fisk Memorial Chapel. The convocation is free and the public is invited to attend.
Evers-Williams, a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, attended Alcorn State University where she met and later married her first husband, the late Medgar Evers, who was appointed as the NAACP’s first field secretary of Mississippi in 1954. The couple organized efforts throughout the state of Mississippi to recruit new members for the organization and were leaders in the desegregation of local businesses and schools. The latter effort resulted in the University of Mississippi enrolling its first African-American student, James Meredith, in 1962. As their reputation grew during that time, the Evers were targeted for physical attacks. They experienced the bombing of their carport on May 28, 1963. A few weeks later, Medgar Evers was assassinated just outside of the family’s home in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963.
Evers-Williams left Mississippi with her three children and moved to California where she earned her degree in sociology from Pomona College in 1968. After graduating, she served as director of consumer affairs at Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO.) In 1970 and 1971, Evers-Williams ran for Congress and helped to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus.
In 1995, Evers-Williams became the first woman elected as chair of the Board of the NAACP. As the NAACP’s top official, Evers-Williams led efforts to restore the organization’s fiscal stability. She did not to seek a second term but founded the Medgar Evers Institute in Jackson, Mississippi to impact and train youth in creating positive change through civic engagement. In 1999, Evers-Williams penned her autobiography, “Watch Me Fly.”
Additionally, Evers-Williams served as consultant for the 1996 film, “Ghosts of Mississippi.” The film recounts the third trial of Byron De La Beckwith who was convicted in 1994 of the murder of Medgar Evers. Evers-Williams is also the author of “For Us, The Living,” which recounts her courtship and marriage to Medgar Evers and the couple’s role as central figures of the Civil Rights Movement.
Since 1985, Fisk University has commemorated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the civil rights era gained momentum in the mid 1950’s, Dr. King’s first address at Fisk was at the University’s commencement exercises in 1956. Over the next decade, King’s appearances at Fisk galvanized an active student body who later organized non-violent demonstrations against racism in Nashville, Tennessee. Even before activists in the early 1980s worked to gain a national holiday for Dr. King, Fisk was one of the first Nashville institutions to hold commemorative events in his honor.