As Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny begin their project, the Civil Rights Movement is boiling to high heat. It is 1963 and President Kennedy has just spoken out in support of Civil Rights; however, the message has yet to penetrate Mississippi where Medgar Evers was just brutally murdered by segregationist whites. This example of racial violence gives Aibileen and Minny pause as they consider the repercussions of what they are doing with Skeeter, but they decide to forge ahead because things need to change.
Medgar Evers's murder resounded across the country and was seen as an example of racial injustice and violence in the Deep South. Evers had been a civil rights activist for much of his life. After fighting in World War II, he was honorably discharged as a sergeant and returned home to Mississippi in 1945. While registering to vote in a local election, intimidation by whites prevented him from casting his ballot. The experience inspired him to become an activist, and he would go on to become a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement: "I made up my mind then that it would not be like that again - at least not for me. I was committed, in a way, to changing things."
As president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), Evers helped organize a boycott of service stations that denied African-Americans use of their restrooms. Until his assassination in 1963, he was involved in multiple boycotts and played an integral role in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. In the final weeks before his death, Evers was the target of multiple threats, not surprising considering the heat of the controversy over civil rights.
On June 12, 1963, Evers returned home from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. After he emerged from his car carrying a t-shirt that read "Jim Crow Must Go," he was shot in the back and killed. Medgar Evers was buried in Arlington Cemetery on June 19 and was mourned across the country. That two juries composed entirely of whites failed to convict the man accused of Evers' murder, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, caused even greater outrage. Bob Dylan, Eudora Welty, Nina Simone and a variety of other artists wrote songs and stories about the man who died in the struggle for civil rights.
In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted for the murder of Medgar Evers. He died in prison in 2001 after failing to win his appeals.
This article was originally published in February 2009, and has been updated for the
April 2011 paperback release.
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