June is a very significant month in the history of African Americans’ long struggle for freedom. On June 12, 1963, Civil Rights movement leader Medgar Evers was assassinated at the age of 37. Evers was shot in the back, mortally wounded as he walked to his home after attending an NAACP meeting.

Medgar Evers was a truly exceptional person. His leadership capacity was formed in the crucible of racial oppression in his native Mississippi. After graduating high school, Evers served as a Sergeant with the U.S. Army during World War II.  He participated in the 1944 invasion of Normandy, in what General George Eisenhower called the “great crusade” to overthrow the fascist axis powers.

Ironically, Medgar would face a similar version of fascism upon his return home- White supremacy. Evers got to work. He graduated from Alcorn State College, now known as an HBCU. He challenged the violent injustice of segregation through his dual approach of organizing the people and through legal challenge. After the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Evers applied to the law school at the (Whites only) University of Mississippi as a test case.

As the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement built in 1963, the backlash become fierce.Evers became a target of the White Citizens Council, an association of White supremacists and segregationists that operated throughout the South. The group formed in reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In late May and again in early June, Evers 

On June 12, White supremacist and White Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith fired the shot that killed Evers. Despite overwhelming evidence, two all-White juries failed to convict De La Beckwith.

The assassination of Medgar Evans has the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of squashing the Civil Rights Movement, national visibility and receptivity to the cause was multiplied. The mortally wounded Evers was the first African American ever admitted to the local Whites-only hospital, a foretaste of the desegregation to come.

The funeral was a massive public event, and led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. The steadfast work of Evers was carried on by waves of people newly commit to the cause.

The national momentum would ultimately result in the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964, passed on June 19, 1964 by the Senate, after a seventy day filibuster of Segregationist senators had failed. The bill was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, the same auspicious date of freedom  in 1776 when the Continental Congress voted to declare itsindependence from Britain.

The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is a strong part of the legacy of Medgar Evers. The bill prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin, with significantly strengthened provisions for federal enforcement.

In an epitaph to Evers life, in 1994, a jury convicted De La Beckwith of murder after new evidence emerged. To use King’s metaphor, the arc of justice was long in time, but justice for Evers and his family ultimately prevailed. Justice prevailed because the work of civil rights is ongoing, and carried out by people who devote their lives to something larger than themselves.

Remembering Medgar Evers, let us each and all do out part in helping this nation move towards the vision of equality that propelled Evers and the many others of the Civil Rights Movement.