Historian looks at civil rights martyr


JANS – Mississippi State faculty member Michael V. Williams is the author of a new book profiling civil rights icon Medgar Wiley Evers. Published by the University of Arkansas Press, “Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr” chronicles the life and work of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s first fulltime Mississippi field secretary, who was murdered in the summer of 1963.

In his 453-page book, the assistant professor of history and African-American studies provides critical analyses of the intense social and political struggles that African Americans waged in the Deep South during the turbulent 1950s and 1960s. Within the larger story, he details the key role played by the Newton County native and (now) Alcorn State University alumnus in helping bring about social change in the Magnolia State. “Medgar Evers stands as the epitome of America’s commitment to freedom, equality, citizenship and the responsibility of the individual to ensure that successive generations, no matter their color, gender or ideology, experience the freedom, equality and benefits of American citizenship,” Williams said. Evers, a Word War II combat veteran and former insurance salesman, was shot outside his Jackson home by Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith of Greenwood.


Beckwith eventually was convicted of the crime in 1994 and died a life-serving prisoner in 2001.) Williams is scheduled to discuss the book during the 2012 Arkansas Literary Festival, to be held April 12-15 in Little Rock. Williams received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Mississippi. In addition to civil rights, his primary teaching and research areas include black intellectual radicalism, social conflict, the African-American experience, and U.S. history since 1877.

“I have always been interested in social and political movements,” he explained. “America’s civil rights periods symbolized calls for America to stand fully upon the principles for which it was founded.” Williams said his next book projects will examine the impact the modern civil rights movement had on specific Mississippi counties, as well as the ways in which grassroots organizations and leadership developed in response.