“History has reached a turning point, here and over the world”

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Medgar Evers (July 2, 1925-June 12, 1963) was a civil rights activist, born in Decatur, Mississippi. He served in World War II from 1943 to 1945, fighting in Europe before being honorably discharged as a sergeant.

In 1951, he married Myrlie Beasley, a fellow student at the historically black Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University). After graduating in 1952, Evers became an insurance salesman. He later joined the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, his first experience as a civil rights organizer. He led the boycott against gas stations that refused to let blacks use their restrooms, and he and his older brother Charles organized local chapters on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Evers became the first NAACP Field Secretary in Mississippi in 1954. He investigated hate crimes against blacks. He filed lawsuits to end segregation beginning in 1954 when he applied to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Law School and was denied. His case was aided by the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the university was integrated in 1962. Additionally, Evers registered black people to vote, organized boycotts and sit-ins, challenging segregated seating on uses and campaigned for better education for all children.

Evers made a 17-minute speech on WLBT on May 20, 1963, describing the black community’s desire for equality. Many Mississippians called in to protest Evers’ speech being broadcast and even threatened his life.

For his efforts, Evers was beaten, jailed and eventually assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963. President Kennedy had given his speech supporting civil rights only the day before. After Evers was assassinated, Kennedy to ask Congress to pass the Civil Rights Bill, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Many buildings – a post office, library, airport, and college – were named for him, as was a U.S. Navy humanitarian ship in 2011, the first vessel named for a civil rights activist. His widow Myrlie attended the christening in San Diego.

After decades of work, Myrlie Evers efforts paid off and on December 17, 19990, white supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, was as arrested for murdering Evers. The trial lasted two weeks, after which a jury of four whites and eight blacks found Beckwith guilty and in 1997, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the conviction.

Myrlie Evers later became the first woman to chair the NAACP Board of Directors and published her memoir Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be and established the Evers Collection and the Medgar Evers Institute. The collected papers are being preserved and cataloged at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

On May 25, 1999, the Jackson City Council unanimously declared July 4 as Medgar Wiley Evers Day and Mississippi senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott led a resolution that the U.S. Senate adopted, declaring June 9-16 Medgar Evers National Week of Remembrance.

The Evers’ home became a National Historic Landmark and museum in 2019. It was restored to its condition when the family lived there.

nelson_rolihlahla_mandela

From South Africa History Online

Rolihlahla “Nelson” Mandela (July 18 1918 – December 5, 2013) was an anti-apartheid activist who fought against segregation in South Africa.

Mandela was a member of the Madiba clan, was born in the Eastern Cape. His father Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, was a principal counselor to Jongintaba Dalindyebo the Acting King of the Thembu people. After his father died in 1930, Mandela became Dalindyebo’s ward.

Mandela matriculated to the University College of Fort Hare but was expelled for joining student protests. He became more politically active and joined the African National Congress in 1944 when he helped to form the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). His activism eventually led the ANC to became more radical and adopt the Programme of Action, in 1949.

He was chosen as the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign in 1952. The Campaign joined with the ANC and the South African Indian Congress and began a civil disobedience campaign against apartheid. The Campaign began a mass resistance movement against apartheid, which like Jim Crow laws in the United States, separated whites and blacks, with separate entrances and laws such as the Population Regulation Act and pass laws. He and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and sentenced to nine months of hard labour, which was suspended for two years.

Mandela was arrested on December 5, 1956 as part of a nationwide raid, leading to the 1956 Treason Trial where 28, including Mandela were accused but acquitted on March 29, 1961. During this time, on March 21, 1960, police killed 69 unarmed protesters against the laws. As a result, the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned. Mandela and his Treason Trial colleagues were among thousands detained.

A few days before the Treason Trial, Mandela spoke at the All-in Africa Conference, which resolved that he should write to Prime Minister Verwoerd requesting a national convention on a non-racial constitution, and to warn that if he did not agree there would be a national strike against South Africa becoming a republic. After he and his colleagues were acquitted, Mandela went underground and began planning a national strike from the 29th through the 31st of March.

In January 1962, using the name David Motsamayi, Mandela secretly left South Africa, traveling around Africa and visiting England to gain support for the struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested and charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

In October 1963, Mandela and 10 others went on trial for sabotage in what would become known as the Rivonia Trial. On June 12 the following year, Mandela and seven others were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

He was released from prison in 1990, nine days after the ban on the ANC and PAC were lifted. In 1993, he and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and on April 27, 1994 he voted for the first time.

On May 10, 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. He kept his promise of only serving one term. After he left office, he continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he had set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

He died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013.

Five years later, a collection of letters that Mandela sent from prison was published as The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela,” edited by South African journalist Sahm Venter. It featured 255 letters, of which roughly half had never been released to the public.

Loving v. VA

Getty Images

Loving v. Virginia

On June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that all laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the Untied States were unconstitutional. Anti-miscegenation laws had been in effect for 103 years, since Maryland enacted the first law banning marriage between black men and white women in 1664. Interestingly, Japan enacted its law allowing interracial marriage in 1873.

The trial was held on April 10, 1967, and it took two months for the decision to be handed down. In addition to the two ACLU attorneys, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, the Supreme Court granted William Marutani, a Japanese-American lawyer to speak on behalf of the Japanese-American Citizens League (JACL) which had filed an amicus brief in support. Marutani would marry a white Virginia woman in 1975.

I created a website for a class project on the history of anti-miscegenation laws using Peggy Pascoe’s What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America as a base, including links to various media, from books to songs. Please enjoy!

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