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Civil Rights Advocate Myrlie Evers-Williams On The Change Of Mississippi Flag


Tomorrow would have been the 95th birthday of Medgar Evers. He is the civil rights leader who never saw his 38th birthday because he was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963. Evers spent his life fighting for racial justice, and so has his widow, Myrlie Evers Williams, who went on to chair the NAACP. And now the state where they grew up, Mississippi, will change the flag to remove the Confederate emblem.

Myrlie Evers-Williams joins us, and I should disclose that we've become friends over the years. It is so good to talk to you again.

Thanks for being here.

MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS: It is my delight.

SHAPIRO: This is quite a birthday present for your late husband. How are you feeling today?

EVERS-WILLIAMS: (Laughter) You know, I thank you for making that connection because I had not. And I think it's marvelous, and it's so fitting. Medgar loved Mississippi, the land of his birth. There were many things - many, many things - about it that he did not like, he didn't agree with. He worked very hard. He gave his time. He gave his life so the conditions for his people and all people in the state would be better. And I would ask Medgar on occasion, what about us, meaning what about our family? There was always silence, and he would look at me, and he'd say, Myrlie, I'm doing this for you, for my children and all of the other children. And I would say to him, but we need you. His answer was, you will always have me. He was right. He lives in my heart every day. He's just there. I love him more dearly today than I think I did the day that he took his last breath. That's almost impossible. But I'm just so thankful that he is still remembered.

SHAPIRO: Did you ever think you would see this day?

EVERS-WILLIAMS: No. (Laughter) Did I answer that quickly enough?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

EVERS-WILLIAMS: No, I did not think I would live long enough to see it. I always felt that it would happen, but when was the question. When I was told, I burst into tears unexpectedly. And they were tears of joy, of thankfulness, but also remembrances of what had happened over the years to get that flag removed. And it reminds me of words that were spoken by many people after Medgar's assassination. His death will not be in vain.

And I can recall that I could not accept that. Medgar was the love of my life, the father of my children. He was gone. I couldn't touch him. I couldn't reach him. I couldn't console him. But his spirit has always been with me through all of this time, and I think it has lingered around in Mississippi.

I had a most terrible time over the last few weeks watching the murder scene, I'm going to call it, of one of our brethren being held down by an officer's knee. All of the demonstrations that have taken place across this country and I was so upset because I could not physically be involved in any of those marches.

SHAPIRO: And so why do you think, after all the unsuccessful attempts to change the Mississippi flag this one ended differently?

EVERS-WILLIAMS: Time has played the most important part, that human beings have had a chance to be honest with themselves, to see the injustices that we have in this free America, of younger people feeling the responsibility and the need to speak out for positive change. And if we look at the crowd, we will see faces of different colors and different races. That says something to me. It's much broader than it was in 1963.

SHAPIRO: What would you like to see on the new Mississippi state flag?

EVERS-WILLIAMS: I've asked myself that. The only thing I can think of is the word freedom, that Mississippi was strong enough to say, this flag must come down. And I have a feeling that Medgar knows and that his wings are clapping in joy.

SHAPIRO: Myrlie Evers-Williams, what an honor to talk to you.

Thank you so much.

EVERS-WILLIAMS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.