Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movementby Minrose Gwin
As the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi, Medgar Wiley Evers put his life on the line to investigate racial crimes (including Emmett Till’s murder) and to organize boycotts and voter registration drives. On June 12, 1963, he was shot in the back by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith as the civil rights leader unloaded a stack of “Jim Crow… See more details below
As the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi, Medgar Wiley Evers put his life on the line to investigate racial crimes (including Emmett Till’s murder) and to organize boycotts and voter registration drives. On June 12, 1963, he was shot in the back by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith as the civil rights leader unloaded a stack of “Jim Crow Must Go” T-shirts in his own driveway. His was the first assassination of a high-ranking public figure in the civil rights movement.
While Evers’s death ushered in a decade of political assassinations and ignited a powder keg of racial unrest nationwide, his life of service and courage has largely been consigned to the periphery of U.S. and civil rights history. In her compelling study of collective memory and artistic production, Remembering Medgar Evers, Minrose Gwin engages the powerful body of work that has emerged in response to Evers’s life and deathfiction, poetry, memoir, drama, and songs from James Baldwin, Margaret Walker, Eudora Welty, Lucille Clifton, Bob Dylan, and Willie Morris, among others. Gwin examines local news accounts about Evers, 1960s gospel and protest music as well as contemporary hip-hop, the haunting poems of Frank X Walker, and contemporary fiction such as The Help and Gwin’s own novel, The Queen of Palmyra. In this study, Evers springs to life as a leader of “plural singularity,” who modeled for southern African Americans a new form of cultural identity that both drew from the past and broke from it; to quote Gwendolyn Brooks, “He leaned across tomorrow.”
Fifty years after his untimely death, Evers still casts a long shadow. In her examination of the body of work he has inspired, Gwin probes wide-ranging questions about collective memory and art as instruments of social justice. “Remembered, Evers’s life’s legacy pivots to the future,” she writes, “linking us to other human rights struggles, both local and global.”
A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication.
“In Remembering Medgar Evers, Minrose Gwin has woven an intricately textured appreciation of that stunningly brave man, his tortured time, and the deeper meaning of his arduous life and brutal murder. Toiling in relative obscurity to overcome white supremacy in Mississippi, brought down by a racist assassin who publicly exulted for decades thereafter, Evers was both unique and representative of black Americans’ unfinished march toward full equality. Gwin makes sure that we cannot forget either reality.”—Hodding Carter, University Professor of Leadership and Public Policy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“This is a book that should be widely read, shared with others, and placed in a spot of honor in every library. It tells important and all too often forgotten stories of the times with clarity and passion. It is a treasure.”—Myrlie Evers-Williams
"A worthy tribute to one of the civil rights era's most important and overlooked figures, an essential interrogation of Medgar Evers–themed works of some of the most important American artists of the last half century, and an intelligent examination of art meets activism."—Frank X. Walker, author of Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers
"In a time when forgetting is easier than remembering, Minrose Gwin brilliantly reconstitutes one of the signal moments of the civil rights movement and persuasively reconfigures its significance. Remembering Medgar Evers is both an all-important testimony to the necessity of the memory of the man, the moment, and the movement and a compelling explanation of Medgar’s relevance and persistence in black cultural production. Culling not only factual accounts from contemporary media sources but also creative responses from writers and musicians, Gwin memorializes the long civil rights struggle in Mississippi and the role Medgar’s life and death played in it. She skillfully merges the theoretical work of American literary and cultural studies with a moving analysis of the power of righteous social action and political justice in the United States."—Thadious M. Davis, author of Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature
"Evers is. . .championed in a new book by Minrose Gwin. . . . Gwin felt that Evers' life of service and courage had been left on the periphery of Civil Rights history. She examines the powerful body of work that has emerged in response to his life and death. . . . [A]nyone who wants to learn more about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and quiet bravery of Medgar Evers [should] pick up Gwin's book."—Deep South Magazine
"Gwin has created that most unlikely of books—a piece of literary criticism that also is a moving document of our time."—Cliff Bellamy, Durham Herald-Sun
“Remembering Medgar Evers serves the function of cultural analysis while at the same time adds to the literary reply to Evers’ assassination. Gwin’s examination of literature, music, memoir, and newspapers is presented in such a way that it seems to be a creative response itself. Her central purpose to help society remember Medgar Evers is well communicated and her argument that Evers’ life in its aesthetical form serves as an inspiration for contemporary human rights struggles brings an unsung hero for civil rights a proper commemoration.” —Margaret Blount Montgomery, Southern Historian
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