Oxford, Miss. — Myrlie Evers-Williams moves gingerly about the crowd, slowed by her 80-year-old knees. The University of Mississippi chancellor, who has invited her to speak at commencement exercises, takes her hand to lead her down a flight of stairs. Students, black and white, ask to pose for a photo with her as she makes her way to the stage. Her daughter, always nearby, is holding her purse. She is doted on.
Evers-Williams is here, she knows, as a stand-in for an era. What her name evokes in Mississippi — 50 years after her husband, Medgar, was gunned down in their driveway by an avowed racist — is a vivid image of the worst of Southern terrorism. And on the campus of Ole Miss, where she and Medgar fought for integration, she is here on this May morning as part of an ongoing dance of racial reconciliation.
Fifty years later on the campus of Ole Miss, the description of Evers-Williams as long-suffering and forgiving is in one way patently false. More than any of the other civil rights widows, Myrlie Evers showed America her rage. She let the nation see her unfiltered emotion when two all-white juries refused to convict Medgar’s killer, during a time when black anger was not an acceptable display of emotion. She wrote a book and began it with this line: “Somewhere in Mississippi lives the man who murdered my husband.”
Evers-Williams eventually saw to it that the shooter was brought to justice. Memories are never far, but with that justice came a transformation and transcendence of grief. So, too, did she rise above the tropes of widowhood that sought to define and limit her as a woman.
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