Myrlie Evers-Williams was thrust into the national spotlight after her husband and civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot and killed in 1963. She mourned her husband, but then she took up the mantle to carry on his work for decades.
By entering politics, Ever-Williams became a “national catalyst for justice and equality.” Her work helped strengthen her late husband’s legacy and advance the movement. She co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, ran for Congress in California’s 24th district and served as Los Angeles’ commissioner of public works. She also wrote for Ladies Home Journal, covered the Paris Peace Talks, and rose to prominence as the Atlantic Richfield Company’s consumer affairs director.
A dynamic leader, Mrs. Evers-Williams chaired the NAACP’s board of directors from 1995 to 1998. In 2013, she became the first woman and the first layperson to deliver the prayer at a presidential inauguration.
In 2020, Evers-Williams stated, “I’m pushing 90 years of age now, but I’ll be darned if I’m not as strong as I have ever been in my conviction about what is right and wrong…I can’t do what I used to do, but I’m blessed that I can still think, and I can still speak.”
Evers-Williams, who was born on March 17, 1933, celebrates her 90th birthday today. As she celebrates this milestone birthday, she shares with ESSENCE what she believes can be done to further the mission and uplift our people. Here are our top seven takeaways.
“Voting is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans — we all deserve equal access to participate in our nation’s democracy, so it’s disheartening to watch the federal lawmakers we elected to fairly represent us not prioritize such an important issue.”
“Many would like us to believe that voter suppression is a thing of the past — but it’s very much alive today. I’ve been in this fight for so long, and my dream has always been to live to see the day when voting rights are solidified, at least at the national level. When Medgar and I lived in Mississippi, we stressed the importance of voting to the community, despite the state’s white officials’ best efforts to keep us out of the polls.”
“In the early 1950s and prior to his death, Medgar was more dedicated to the movement than ever, and it put him in the top three slots on the KKK list to be eliminated and our family under a hateful spotlight. His life was constantly threatened through messages and hourly nasty phone calls to our home and his office. A month before he was killed, our home was firebombed as a message for what was to come.”
“We knew how imminent the threat of danger against us was, but he told me personally that we couldn’t let it stop us. We always chose to lead with love, not be deterred by hate. A day before that fateful night, we expressed our deepest love for each other and our children. I told him that I couldn’t go on without him, ‘You’re stronger than you think you are,’ is what he told me.”
“Every day when he [Medgar] walked out of that door, I knew there was a chance I would never see him again, and there was just this looming feeling of doom in the days leading up to his death. Deep down, we’d always known what would happen. I felt so much grief, anger, and hatred in the moments after his death. It wasn’t easy, but I found comfort in knowing that everything he did was for me, our children, and people across the entire country. At that moment, I knew I had to do the same and keep his mission and legacy alive.”
After the 2020 election, we saw so many Republican-controlled state legislatures pass abhorrent legislation restricting voter rights across the country. The Freedom to Vote Act, named in remembrance of my late friend and champion for voting rights, Congressman John Lewis, stalled in Congress in 2021 and has yet to be brought back to the floor for passage. We must demand Congress to act on this bill — it’s beyond time.”
“After the 2020 election, we saw so many Republican-controlled state legislatures pass abhorrent legislation restricting voter rights across the country. The Freedom to Vote Act, named in remembrance of my late friend and champion for voting rights, Congressman John Lewis, stalled in Congress in 2021 and has yet to be brought back to the floor for passage. We must demand Congress to act on this bill — it’s beyond time.”