11. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE Maybe the most powerful aspect of the Civil Rights movement was just how much violence and bloodshed that activists endured in their non-violent pursuit of justice. Marchers were beat with night sticks, hosed down with fire hoses, attacked by police dogs, and more. As they stood tall in the face of hate and bigotry, they recognized any day could be their last. The leaders of the movement had it even worse – their homes bombed, their churches burned, and their lives threatened.
Medgar Evers was one of those leaders of the movement. He was a sergeant during World War II, fighting in the Europe against Nazi Germany. When he came home, he went to Alcorn State and got a bachelor’s degree. He applied to law school at the University of Mississippi, but was rejected because of his race. That is one reason why he was so adamant that a few years later, James Meredith gain admission. Medgar was a strong believer in civil rights, and was instrumental in making sure that at least an investigation and trial took place regarding the death of Emmett Till. Living in Mississippi, and being an outspoken advocate for equal rights made him and his family targets of white extremists. His family survived having a Molotov cocktail lobbed into their home, but, in 1963, Medgar was not so fortunate. He was murdered by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens Council. But justice had to wait 30 years. Yes, finally, in 1993, a jury convicted De La Beckwith of Medgar Evers’ murder.
For civil rights activists, the possibility of death was very real, and it was made even more tangible after the murder of Medgar Evers. Often, before rallies, marches, or sit-ins, protesters would sing “This May Be The Last Time,” another old spiritual that was dusted off and repurposed for the movement. It reminded them of the seriousness of what they were about to undertake, and rededicated them to their mission.