Fifty years ago, a hard-working, risk-taking, family-loving man was shot in the back, dead in his own driveway for his efforts leading the NCAAP in the Civil Rights Movement. His name was Medgar Evers.
That was only fifty years ago.
As we get older, history seems shorter in perspective. In high school, to me, the Civil Rights movement and segregation sounded so far away because it was forty of fifty years earlier, and that was almost three or four times my age then. To a twenty-five year old now, however, fifty years ago is only twice that age, so the perspective changes.
Thankfully, We The People have come quite far in the last fifty years, in terms of segregation, by the grace of God. There is, of course, still work to do, and there always will be.
I first heard of Medgar Evers, though, in the opening lines of “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” a song Bob Dylan wrote in 1963, the same year of Evers’ death:
A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game
The last verse also explicitly references Evers and his burial:
Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game
Thirty years passed before the jury convicted Evers’ murderer, according to Debbie Elliot’s NPR blog today. Those years surely crawled by, especially for Reena Evers-Everette. Even when Medgar was alive, however, the last decade of their marriage was still fettered to fear, she says:
“And we never knew from one day to the next what would happen. I lived in fear of losing him. He lived being constantly aware that he could be killed at any time.” (NPR-Elliot)
So the shooting of Medgar Evers was not something that happend randomly: it had been a long time coming, and Evers lived waiting for it. Yet he kept at the work he knew he was called to do.
In the book of Phillipians, Paul writes:
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (3:17, ESV)
I am certainly no expert on Medgar Evers nor the Civil Rights, but it seems clear that Evers was a man who looked fear and evil in the eye, without a blink, and kept on working.
Such a person is to be honored.
To read more about Medgar Evers, see his entry in the encyclopedia of the King Institute, here: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_evers_medgar_1925_1963/