The assassination of Medgar Evers, 50 years later

Posted June 12th, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , ,

Medgar EversYesterday, I wrote here on the 50th anniversary of one of the most momentous days in the history of the civil rights movement.

June 11, 1963 was a day of obvious, encouraging progress for the civil rights movement. It was the day when George Wallace was forced to step aside and watch the integration of the University of Alabama by Vivian Malone, James Hood, and the Alabama National Guard. That evening, President John F. Kennedy, released from the obligation to address the crisis in Tuscaloosa, made the last-minute decision to speak to the nation from the Oval Office anyway, announcing in hastily-prepared remarks that the civil rights movement was a moral issue without which the nation could not fulfill its promise of freedom, and promising the hastening of desegregation and the introduction of what would become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I ended by noting, briefly, that hours after the president finished addressing his radio and television audience, there would be a horrifying event in Jackson, Mississippi. That event, of course, was the assassination of Medgar Evers, the outspoken NAACP field secretary for Mississippi, who was murdered by Byron de la Beckwith, a white supremacist, in the early morning hours of June 12.

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The 50th anniversary of two civil rights landmarks

Posted June 11th, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , , ,

Today marks the 50th anniversary of two major landmarks in the civil rights movement: George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” over desegregation at the University of Alabama, and President Kennedy’s address to the nation announcing what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door”

George Wallace at the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963On the morning of June 11, 1963, Governor George Wallace of Alabama personally and physically intervened, in front of television cameras, to attempt to block the desegregation of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The deputy attorney general of the United States, Nicholas Katzenbach, was present in person to request that Wallace step aside. When that request was rebuffed by the governor, General Henry Graham of the Alabama National Guard, having been federalized by President John F. Kennedy, ordered the governor to stand aside. Wallace complied, after first complaining to the news cameras about this “unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion” by the federal government on the affairs of Alabama.

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Controversy over remembering integration at Old Miss

Posted October 2nd, 2012 by
Category: History Tags: , , ,

James Meredith arriving at the University of MississippiFifty years ago this week, James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, marking the university’s integration and a civil rights milestone.

Ole Miss is doing a great deal to commemorate this anniversary, yet it has become mired in controversy about whether it is celebrating while ignoring its own past and its role in desegregation.

The doors were open for 50 years yes, but they’d been closed for a century. We don’t want to talk about that do we?

— Historian Charles Eagles, author of The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss

The integration of the University of Mississippi

The integration of Ole Miss was not an easy one. Meredith’s application for admission was repeatedly refused by the university, and he required the assistance of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Thurgood Marshall, and the support of the NAACP, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Meredith had a right to be admitted to the university.

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