She heard the shots ring out, that long-ago summer night. Inside the house, she heard her husband’s car pull up, and then the shots that killed him. One of the bullets came through the living room window, into the house where she and their three small children waited for a father who would never walk in the door again.
At today’s Martin Luther King Day breakfast, Myrlie Evers Williams recalled that night, and their daughter, Rena, who was here in Minnesota with her.
“She is a part of the passing of the torch for another generation, having the sad experience of running to her dad as he lay at our doorstep. And I recall her words – ‘Get up daddy, get up, get up daddy.’
“And of course he didn’t move.
“But I also recall something that he said to me the night before he was taken from us: ‘Myrlie, take care of my children.’
“And I said, ‘Of course, I’ll take care of OUR children because they are ours.’ But I know he meant something beyond that – not only our three children, but all of the children in the state of Mississippi, all of the children in our nation, because that is part of what all of us should be about.”
Myrlie and Medgar Evers knew the danger when he accepted the leadership of the Mississippi NAACP. She was his partner in life and in work for justice. After he was assassinated by the Ku Klux Klan on June 12, 1963, she continued that work, eventually becoming the chair of the national NAACP.
Myrlie Evers Williams has been a personal hero of mine for years. Years ago, I searched out the unprepossessing, single-story home where she and Medgar Evers lived in Jackson. The home, then unmarked, was this month named a National Historic Landmark by President Barack Obama.
I heard Myrlie Evers Williams today, sitting with a crowd of Macalester people, watching a live broadcast of her talk at the annual Minneapolis Martin Luther King Day breakfast. She talked about the work Dr. King did did and the work Medgar Evers did, and the work she continues to do.
“When I walked into this room and I heard the music, I felt as they say a racehorse does who’s been put out to pasture. When the horse hears that bell, it stands tall, it stands straight, it gets back into that fighting position it had. And that is how I felt this morning….
Yes, I’m tired. I soon will reach my 84th birthday…. I’m tired, but I’m still standing.”
Along with the music came a young spoken word artist, who proclaimed:
Freedom’s a religion to us –
Resisting is us,
that’s why our brothers sat on a bus.
that’s why we walked through Ferguson with our hands up …
We woman and man up.
Yes, we woman and man up, we take our power, we keep on resisting, no matter who the president is, no matter how strong the voices and the forces of repression and oppression.
“We are challenged today as we have never been challenged before,” Myrlie Evers Williams said. But she’s not stopping, and her words tell us to go on with her:
“Stand tall. Throw those shoulders back, because they are singing songs of spirit and wisdom.…
“What you are doing here through your activism … you are keeping the spirit of the true America alive. I believe in you, I hope you believe in me, I hope you believe in this country, I hope you believe you have a role to play.”