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Triumph for rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, plans to witness the swearing-in of Barack Obama.

  • Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

    Chris Goodenow / For The Herald

    Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

  • Audience members applaud as civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

    Chris Goodenow / For The Herald

    Audience members applaud as civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

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By Eric Stevick
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

    Chris Goodenow / For The Herald

    Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

  • Audience members applaud as civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

    Chris Goodenow / For The Herald

    Audience members applaud as civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams speaks Wednesday at Edmonds Community College.

LYNNWOOD -- Sometime after she witnesses Tuesday's inauguration of Barack Obama, Myrlie Evers-Williams expects to journey to Arlington National Cemetery.
She will wander up to a familiar white headstone, 35 years after it was set into the grass.
She'll utter a simple message: "We did it."
Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday will pay tribute to the assassinated civil rights leader, but Evers-Williams' presence at Edmonds Community College on Wednesday served as a reminder that the struggle claimed many victims.
Medgar Evers was a World War II veteran and prominent black leader whose high-profile campaign for civil rights ended in 1963 when he was shot in the back of the head in the driveway of his Mississippi home. It took three trials and 30 years before Byron De La Beckwith, a Ku Klux Klan member, was convicted of murder.
Evers-Williams lived through segregation, when she couldn't drink from the same water fountains or share sidewalks with whites. She can remember a time when blacks were relegated to the backs of buses, read from outdated school textbooks with torn-out pages and enrolled in ill-equipped chemistry classes with no test tubes.
She endured taunts and jeers, violent threats and countless obstructions to help others register to vote.
Today, at 75, she is reminded of her husband's willingness to endure enormous hardships for his convictions. He once said he would gladly give his life if it would improve the lives of his wife and children and other families, she said.
His determination rubbed off on her.
"He said, 'Myrlie, isn't there anything you believe enough in to stand up and fight for?' " she said. "That was the turning point of my life."
Evers-Williams went on to become the first woman to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She has written books and worked in the corporate world.
Her life's work and that of her husband is not forgotten. On Wednesday, a crew from CBS hooked her up to a microphone before she talked with students. Her comments may be included in an upcoming inauguration special.
She looks forward to Tuesday's inauguration of the nation's first black president.
"It was something I was not sure I would ever live to see," she said.
EdCC student Troy Montgomery, a Mill Creek resident who spent eight years in the Marine Corps, including two tours in Iraq, posed Evers-Williams a question he likes to ask: "After all you have been through, are you proud to be an American?"
"Yes, I am," she said, before drawing a distinction between loving one's country and feeling patriotic.
She said she has always loved her country but has only felt patriotic three times in her life. They were when she saw her father in his World War II military uniform and she sang "God Bless America"; when her husband was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, his casket draped in an American flag; and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Obama's election now kindles a fourth surge of patriotic pride, she said.
Through all of the struggles she has survived, including the death of her husband and the long wait for justice, one thing has remained constant, she said.
"I have always loved America," she said.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail stevick@heraldnet.com.
Civil rights leader speaks tonight
Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams will discuss her experiences as part of the city of Lynnwood's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at 7 tonight at the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. SW.
Admission is free.

Story tags » Historical SitesEdmondsLynnwoodPresidentNationalCivil Rights

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