***Medgar Evers’s Murder and Kennedy was a Low-Down Dog***
Medgar—there was nobody like him. He was almost in a separate category of human being: so kind, so humble, and so dedicated to the movement and to his people. He was born in 1925 in Mississippi, and wasn’t but thirty-seven when he was murdered in 1963, but in his short life, he led the Mississippi NAACP, fought for voting rights and voter registration, and inspired a whole lot of folks. Being with him, I fell in love with the church movement in the South, the voting rights campaign down there, the whole thing.
That movement got so strong. You know that didn’t sit right with racists. So, one night when I was down there, I said to Medgar, “Man, I think somethin’s going to happen. It doesn’t feel right.” White folks had strange looks on their faces.
Before something could happen, though, Medgar called me—I was staying at a black minister’s house—and said, “Man, you need to call home. Your wife just called.” I said I’d do it later. He said, “No, it’s important, man.” I told him, “I think the white folks are gettin’ ready to throw a bomb or something, and I ain’t leavin’ nowhere.” Medgar knew that my son Richard Jr., two months old, had just died, but he didn’t want to tell me. He just wanted me to call home. He said, “Greg, your son’s sick.” I said, “So what.” “Greg, he’s dead.”
I flew home to Chicago to be with my wife. She was in shock. Eventually I was, too. But soon after, I went back to Mississippi.
Now, here is how the universe works. My plane back to Mississippi got in late, and I had to perform in Chicago later, so I had to leave Medgar’s house earlier than planned. Well, Byron De La Beckwith was waiting to kill us at Medgar’s house. De La Beckwith was a member of the White Citizens’ Council, which had sprung up after the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1954 that school segregation was unconstitutional. The only reason I’m not dead is that my son died and my flight back to Mississippi was delayed. Before I left Medgar that day, I hugged him and said, “Man, I’m sorry I don’t get to die with you. I love you, man.”
He knew he was going to be killed. He even knew who was going to do it.
De La Beckwith went free after two trials in 1964 when all-male, all-white juries failed to convict him.
Now, let me fast-forward.
How did De La Beckwith get money? Well, his daddy was a postmaster. Now, President Kennedy, out of all the land to buy for a post office, bought his land—for fifty grand. That’s how De La Beckwith had the money to pay. Kennedy was one of these low-down dogs whom black folks don’t know anything about but like, because they can’t spot a racist when he’s smiling and putting on a big show of loving black folks. They can’t tell the difference between a good white person and a bad one.
Why do I say Kennedy was a low-down dog? When they cut off food stamps in Mississippi, in retaliation for voter registration drives, it had Kennedy’s blessing. When that happened, I went back to Mississippi and said, “I’ll pick up the tab. I’ll send seven tons of food every two weeks. I’ll pay for it.” And the Kennedy boys—and I didn’t know this until Cathy Hughes and TV One did a show called Unsung, and I don’t know where she got the tapes—you can hear them saying, “We’ve got to send food stamps again, because that Dick Gregory is getting too much worldwide attention.”
But let me fast-forward again. Medgar’s widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, pushed and pushed until she got a new trial for Medgar’s murderer. They tried De La Beckwith again in 1994. This time he went to prison, where he died at age eighty in 2001.
A lot of evil went down in Mississippi, but some good happened, too, because of one man: Medgar Evers.
~ The Honorable Dick Gregory