Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Violence Then, Violence Now Fifty Years Later, Let's Prove That Nonviolence Wins in the End

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Violence Then, Violence Now Fifty Years Later, Let's Prove That Nonviolence Wins in the End

Article excerpt

Two turning points in the civil rights movement mark 50th anniversaries this summer: the assassination of Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963. In addition to their importance in the history of civil rights, these anniversaries provide an opportunity to examine the fraught relationship our country has with violence 50 years later.

A field secretary for the NAACP, Medgar Evers died in Jackson, Miss., when he returned home from a meeting late at night and white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith shot him in the back under cover of darkness. Evers died at the end of a rifle he couldn't even see. To his wife Myrlie and their children inside the house, the noise must have been deafening.

Like all those involved in the civil rights movement, Medgar Evers sought social change through social protest, gaining prominence when he helped black student James Meredith gain access to the all-white University of Mississippi. Evers also helped organize the nonviolent protests characteristic of the movement, including boycotts and voter registration drives.

When De La Beckwith shot Evers, it was an act of racial hatred meant to terrify and silence others involved in the civil rights movement; it instead spurred many to action. Author Eudora Welty wrote about the murder in The New Yorker magazine that summer, imagining a shooter who told his victim, "We ain't never now, never going to be equals ... " In a song about Evers' murder, Bob Dylan imagined a shooter who had been taught "that the laws are with him to protect his white skin."

That August the civil rights movement responded with a March on Washington of hundreds of thousands of people. Medgar Evers was under the ground nearby at Arlington National Cemetery as those who stood on the National Mall spoke up for the rights of African- Americans and assured everyone that nonviolence ultimately would trump violence. It was a triumph of the First Amendment, which protects both the right of free speech and the right of peaceful assembly. …

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