The life of Medgar Everswas cut far too short 50 years ago, when the civil rights activist and war veteran was assassinated at just 37-years-old by a White supremacist. Although Evers would not live to see the Civil Rights Movement blossom, he helped plant early seeds of change in the Deep South that eventually took hold. Born in the small town of Decatur, Miss., on July 2, 1925, Evers was one of five children to his parents,James and Jesse.
The family lived on a small farm, while James worked in a nearby sawmill. Young Medgar would have to walk 12 miles to school each day, eventually earning his high school diploma. In 1943, Evers was drafted into the U.S. Army and fought in World War II in the countries of France and Germany. Discharged honorably in 1946 after earning the rank of sergeant, Evers entered into Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) to study business administration.
During his senior year, Evers would marry fellow student Myrlie Beasley (now Evers-Williams) and the couple went on to have three children, Darrell, Reena, and James. Evers graduated from Alcorn College in 1952. The young couple moved to Mound Bayou in Mississippi, and Evers worked for notable civil rights activist T.R.M. Howard as an insurance salesman. Evers also served as the president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL). The RCNL staged boycotts in the state against gas stations that denied Black patrons from using their restrooms.
Back in the early 1940s, it was almost unfathomable for the collective imagination to conceive of African-American and female pilots, particularly lending their talents to the battle of World War II. And yet, at roughly the same time, programs were developed by the U.S. military that made that seeming improbability a reality.
Elder James H. Brown, one of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen (the corps of African-American pilots who participated in World War II), and Jane Tedeschi, a former member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) corps, are products of such programs. They challenged the popular stereotypes of the times that promoted the belief that neither black men nor women were fit to be pilots.
While their paths never crossed during the war, Tedeschi had always wanted to meet one of the brave Tuskegee Airmen, some of whom were stationed near the base where she served, and whose exploits she admired.
Tedeschi just recently got to do just that, bonding with Brown for the first time over their unique places in American history. On May 17, through a partnership between the Brookdale senior living community where Tedeschi resides, and Wish of a Lifetime, an organization that fosters appreciation for seniors by fulfilling life-enriching requests, Jane got her decades-old wish. Sixty-eight years after the end of World War II, Jane, now 93, and Elder, 87, finally had the chance to connect. The result? Mutual appreciation and thanks.
WASHINGTON — Just before the March on Washington in 1963, President John F. Kennedy summoned six top civil rights leaders to the White House to talk about his fears that civil rights legislation he was moving through Congress might be undermined if the march turned violent.
Whitney Young Jr. cut through the president’s uncertainty with three questions: “President Kennedy, which side are you on? Are you on the side of George Wallace of Alabama? Or are you on the side of justice?” One of those leaders, John Lewis, later a longtime congressman from Georgia, tells the story of Young’s boldness in “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” a documentary airing during Black History Month on the PBS series “Independent Lens” and shown in some community theaters.
“Thank God you’ll never have to see a war like that,” Howard Lynch said to the Little Brother he mentors, Zack Skiles.
The “African Americans in World War II” exhibit at theKalamazoo Valley Museumopened on January 12, displaying 40 photographs of how life was for men and women during the most widespread war in human history.
“It’s interesting we’re finally starting to feature African Americans in military history,” Lynch said. “It’s nice to see them get their day in the sun.”
The exhibit on the first floor gallery is on loan from The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. On the walls are photographs of famous soldiers such as heavyweight boxer Joe Louis and Benjamin O. Davis, the first African American General Officer in military history, and also unknown privates engaging in everyday military life.