Reflecting on the Legacy of Medgar Evers
Posted on June 17, 2013 by Andre' Cotten, NAACP Law Fellow
As a native of Mississippi, I have always known about the slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. When I returned home from law school for a couple weeks this past May, I even made sure that I made time to visit the newly opened Medgar Evers exhibit in downtown Jackson. Since I was preparing to move to Baltimore to work for the NAACP, I thought that it was important that I remind myself of the life and legacy of those people who had fought and sacrificed their lives long ago.
Upon arriving at the NAACP, I was elated to learn that my colleagues and I would have the opportunity to attend the wreath laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery for Medgar Evers. However, to my surprise, some of my colleagues were unfamiliar with Evers, his life, nor his work before coming to work for the association this past week.
As we sat on the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, where all have earned their right to rest by paying the ultimate price for freedom, we heard many dignitaries speak about the life and legacy of Medgar W. Evers. As a Mississippian, I was pleased with the amount of support from fellow Mississippians, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Sen. Roger Wicker, former Gov. and Secretary of the U.S. Navy Ray Mabus, and Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP. However, a stronger testament to the pride of Mississippi would be the elderly lady, a native of Mississippi and resident of Washington, who made the trek with me from the gates of Arlington Cemetery to the old amphitheater where the ceremony was held, which was quite a hike. She was not really concerned about the heat, or the length of the walk, she just wanted to make sure that she was there on time to observe the memorial of her fellow Mississippian.
Throughout the ceremony, various dignitaries spoke about the different aspects of Medgar from his civil rights work to his faith to his Mississippi roots to military service to him as a man. Dignitaries included Rabbi David Saperstein, Director Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism; Patrick Hallinan, Superintendent Arlington National Cemetery; Da’ Quan Love, President of the Virginia Youth & College Division of the NAACP; Ms. Lorraine Miller, Former Clerk United States House of Representatives Member and NAACP National Board of Directors; Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP; Dr. Larry B. West, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Baptist Convention USA; Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States; Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America; Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams, Chairman Emeritus National Board of Directors of the NAACP; Mr. Hollis Watkins, Civil Rights Veteran and President and Founder of Southern Echo; Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, President, Progressive National Baptist Convention.
President Bill Clinton’s words resonated with me the most. President Clinton wanted us to understand the difference between the memory and the meaning of Medgar’s life. By placing an emphasis on the meaning of Medgar’s life, he charged all who listened with a call to action to keep striving for a more perfect union. In the business of democracy, it is easy to stand for the change of yesterday, but the real test of strength comes when it is time to make a stand for the change of today. As a Mississippian and an American, the life, sacrifice and legacy of Medgar Evers offers a source of inspiration for those working to better our country to continue to fully commit to the fight for freedom, justice and a more perfect union for all.
Andre’ Cotton is a rising third year law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law. As a student at Ole Miss Law, Andre’ is a member of the Trial Advocacy Board, Mississippi Sports Law Review, and Dean’s Leadership Council. As a native of Mississippi and an alumnus of the University of Mississippi School of Liberal Arts, Andre’ is no stranger to the plight of social justice. Andre’ views his role as a future attorney as the intersection between real social problems and policy concerns. In addition to practicing law, Andre’ also aspires to become more involved with legislation and politics through lobbying. With a civil rights mindset, Andre’ intends to make sure that law makers are fully informed of the impact of legislation and that policies are implemented that push this nation towards becoming a more perfect union for all.