Invocation by black civil rights activist whose husband was murdered in 1963


The presidential invocation that preceded yesterday's inauguration was delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, a black civil rights activist and the first woman and lay person to perform a function traditionally fulfilled by a minister.

More poignantly, she is also the widow of Medgar Evers, a black civil rights leader murdered in June 1963 by a white supremacist. The story of Evers and his struggle was brought to a wider audience in January 1964 through Bob Dylan's song, Only a Pawn in Their Game.

Thereafter, Evers-Williams campaigned for justice for her husband.

He was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a fertiliser salesman and member of the White Citizens' Council (and later of the Ku Klux Klan). At the time, Evers was at the height of his efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi and was also a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

De La Beckwith was arrested and tried but juries composed solely of white men twice failed to convict him. In 1994, he was finally convicted of shooting dead Evers. He died in prison in January 2001 at the age of 80.


After her husband's murder, Evers-Williams moved from Mississippi to California where she was successful in business. She became chairwoman of the NAACP in 1995, ran for the US House of Representatives, and published several books on topics related to civil rights and her husband's legacy.

Although now aged 79, last month she fulfilled a dream of the grandmother who raised her by using her classical piano training to play at Carnegie Hall.

Over the years, Evers-Williams said in a recent interview, "I have personally moved from being hurt, seeing my children damaged, being full of hate and determined to pay back society . . . to finding ways to help my state, my nation.

"Fifty years ago this country was in turmoil - racial inequities, murders, the inability to register to vote.

"I believe the country has put forth an effort to find ways to eliminate most, if not all, of those issues.

"[ But] we certainly find enough ills in American society to not rest on our laurels."