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Chair of the NAACP Board of Directors to visit UConn (Released: 2/11/97)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Myrlie Evers-Williams, chair of the national board of directors of the NAACP, will lecture at the University of Connecticut Feb. 17 as part of Black History Month.

Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, will speak at 7 p.m. in von der Mehden Recital Hall.

"For many women in this country, particularly African-American women, she serves as a role model," says Ronald Taylor, director of the Institute for African-American Studies. "She has succeeded in doing something that a woman has not done before, and that is leading this nation's oldest civil rights organization."

A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Myrlie met Medgar while they were students at Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Miss. They eventually married and moved to Mound Bayou, Miss., where they embarked on business careers with Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Co. Business responsibilities made them travel, and they witnessed the burden of poverty and injustice imposed on blacks. Determined to make positive changes, Medgar and Myrlie opened and managed the first NAACP Mississippi state office. They lived under constant threats as they worked for voting rights, economic stability, fair housing, equal justice and dignity.

On June 12, 1963, the threats became a reality as Myrlie and her three young children witnessed the murder of Medgar at the front door of their home.

After two trials ended in hung juries, Evers-Williams moved her family to Claremont, Calif., in July 1964. Although she left Mississippi, she never gave up the fight to bring to justice Medgar's murderer. At a third trial in 1994, Byron de la Beckwith was tried again, and this time he was found guilty.

Seventeen years before Beckwith was convicted, Evers-Williams wrote her first book, For Us, The Living, depicting the life of Medgar and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in the 1950s and '60s. In 1996, Columbia Pictures released Ghosts of Mississippi, which recounts the 1994 retrial of Beckwith for the murder of Medgar Evers.

"She has always been an independent person," Taylor says. "That is certainly demonstrated by what she went on to do after Medgar's death. She has alway s been ambitious in wanting to make a difference. She has embraced Medgar and she has sought to articulate more clearly what he was attempting to do and what he probably would have done had he lived."

While living in California, Evers-Williams was a candidate for the state's 24th Congressional District in 1970. Although few women ran for office at the time, she gained 38 percent of the vote as the Democratic candidate.

In 1987, Evers-Williams ran for public office again, this time in Los Angeles for the 10th Council seat. She did not win, but was later appointed to the Los Angeles Board of Public Works.

After two runs for chair of the National Board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the third time was the charm. Evers-Williams was elected chair of the board in February 1995.

"There was a statement in one of the accounts I read where she said, 'Her husband died for the NAACP'," Taylor says. "And what she sought to do is live for it, and therefore, to aspire to the highest position in that organization. So in a sense what she's done is kind of a living memorial to her husband."