On February 18, 1995, Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams was elected to the position of Chairman of the National Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the first woman to lead the nation’s oldest civil rights organization as a fulltime volunteer. With the support of a strong member base of the NAACP, she is credited with spearheading the operations that restored the Association to its original status as the premier civil rights organization.
A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Evers-Williams was an honor student at Alcorn A & M College, Lorman, Mississippi, where she met and married another outstanding student, Medgar Evers. They moved to historic Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where they embarked on business careers with Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Business responsibilities demanded extensive travel in the Delta where they witnessed the burden of poverty and injustice imposed on their people. Determined to make positive changes in that society, both Medgar and Myrlie opened and managed the first NAACP Mississippi State Office. They lived under constant threats as they worked for voting rights, economic stability, fair housing, equal education, equal justice, and dignity.
Medgar Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963. Evers-Williams and their three small children saw the murder at the front door of their home in Jackson, Mississippi. After suffering through two hung jury trials in the murder of her husband, she relocated with her three children to California. Justice for the murder of Medgar Evers did not come until 31 years later. In 1994, she was present when the verdict of guilty and life imprisonment was handed down for Byron De La Beckwith. Her persistence and faith in the pursuit of justice for the assassination that changed her life and that of her children had come to fruition.
Evers-Williams received her B.A. degree in Sociology in 1968 and a Certificate from Simmons College, School of Management, Boston, Massachusetts. In addition, she has received honorary doctorates from Pomona College, Medgar Evers College, Spellman College, Columbia College, Bennett College, Tougaloo College, and Willamette University, to name a few.
Evers-Williams has held the positions of: Director, Planning and Development for the Claremont College; first African-American woman to serve as Commissioner, Board of Public Works, Los Angeles, California; vice president, Seligman & Latz; and national director of consumer affairs, Atlantic Richfield Company. She chronicled the life of her late husband, Medgar Evers, and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in a book, For Us, the Living. She also anchored a special HBO production, Southern Justice: the Murder of Medgar Evers.
Her husband of 18 years, Walter Edward Williams, himself a civil rights activist, passed away two days after Mrs. Evers-Williams was elected Chairman of the Board of the NAACP.
On February 10, 1998, Evers-Williams announced that she had successfully completed her mission and would not seek another term of office but would devote her efforts to establishing the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute, linking business, government, and communities to further human rights and equality.
In 1999 Evers-Williams saw her autobiography, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, published. In the bestseller I Dream A World: Black Women Who Changed America, Evers-Williams says that she “greets today and the future with open arms.” This credo has carried her through years of struggle and success.
Mrs. Evers-Williams spoke at the Open Doors ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi. Mrs. Evers-Williams’s speech:
Her speech can also be viewed here.