Medgar Evers

Background

The first Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP office in Jackson, MS, Medgar Evers investigated many of the cases on this list, including Mack Charles Parker, Emmett Till, Roman Duckworth and Clyde Kennard. He was one of the most important civil rights leaders in the state and was widely known across the country.

Shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was shot while stepping out of his car after returning from work. The bullet passed through Evers, into his house and through a wall in the kitchen, bouncing off the refrigerator and landing on a cabinet. At the time of his death, Evers was carrying a handful of sweatshirts bearing the slogan “Jim Crow Must Go.” Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with an attending crowd of thirty thousand people. He was at the time the highest-ranking civil rights leader to be assassinated.

Legal Status

Ten days after Evers’ assassination, Byron “Delay” de la Beckwith reported to the police upon learning that FBI agents were searching for him in connection to the murder. The Washington FBI Office had matched a fingerprint on the eyesight of a rifle found outside the Evers’ home to Beckwith’s military records. Beckwith was charged with the murder.

Beckwith’s trial, before an all-white jury, began on January 27, 1964. On the last day of the trial, Governor Ross Barnett shook Beckwith’s hand and conversed with him. The first jury deadlocked, seven for acquittal and five for conviction, and a second trial is held. The second jury also deadlocked, this time eight are for acquittal and four for conviction. The case was dismissed and Beckwith returned home to a community-wide celebration.

The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission documents, obtained by Myrlie Evers and Jerry Mitchell in 1989, included notes indicating that Beckwith’s lawyers asked the Sovereignty Commission to look into the backgrounds of the potential jurors for the second trial in 1964. The documents revealed that a man who was “believed to be Jewish,” according to the notes, was not chosen for the jury, while two who the investigator said were “fair and impartial” were chosen.

Assistant State Attorney General Bobby DeLaughter led a new investigation into the murder. DeLaughter collected old evidence and rounded up witnesses from the previous trials. To the former case, he added accounts of Beckwith’s confessions over the years, including an account in Delmar Dennis’ Klandestine which reported that Beckwith bragged that “killing that nigger gave me no more inner discomfort than our wives endure when they give birth to our children.” DeLaughter’s efforts were aided by ABC reporters who located four persons who claimed to have seen Beckwith in Jackson on the night of Evers’ murder but who had not spoken up before.

In December 1990, Beckwith was reindicted for the murder of Medgar Evers. His trial began January 18, 1994 with a jury selected from Panola County, 140 miles from Jackson where the trial would be heard. On February 5, 1994, more than 30 years after the assassination, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and Beckwith was sentenced to life in jail.