Medgar Evers' life and death reminds us how recent blatant, violent racism is in America

It just wasn't that long ago.

After thinking I'd studied the Civil Rights Movement at least slightly more in depth than the average American, I'm embarrassed to say that Medgar Evers' name didn't ring a bell when I saw it. I'd probably heard or read his name at some point, but without enough detail about his life to stick in my brain—until now.

A post by Steven Pokin about his visit to Medgar Evers' home in Jackson, Mississippi has captivated the attention of thousands, and put Evers' story front and center in many people's minds. And honestly, that's where it should be. This hero of the Civil Rights Movement deserves to have his story told, remembered, and learned from.


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Pokin's post shows a photograph of two twin-sized mattresses on the floor of a bedroom with stuffed animals resting on the pillows. It reads:

This is where the two little sons of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers slept. When he had this house built in Jackson, Mississippi, he had the window you see elevated to make it less likely his children would be shot.

He had the house built without a front door for security reasons. The main entrance was at the side of the house, at the end of a car port.

His house was the only one on the street that had small stones and gravel on a flat roof. That way, it would not catch fire is someone tossed a lit torch on the roof.

He had his children's mattresses placed directly on the floor to make them less visible targets.
He told his wife and children to sit on the floor while watching TV.

In 1963, he was the NAACP's first Mississippi field director. Three times that year, someone had fired into his home.

As a boy, he had witnessed the separate lynchings of a black man and a 10-year-old black boy — who had made the mistake of going to the whites-only county fair.

On June 10, he was not home when someone tried to enter through the rear door of his home. His wife moved the refrigerator to block the entry. They left the refrigerator there.

That week, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy spoke to the nation about civil rights, justice and a more perfect union. The President said it was coming and he asked the nation to give him time that, ultimately, he did not have.

Medgar Evers gave a speech in Jackson the night of June 11,1963. He returned home — to this home — lugging many T-shirts that he planned to give out at a rally the next day. They said: "Say No to Jim Crow."

He was excited about the President's speech.

He parked behind his wife's car in the driveway and was almost in the car port when an assassin across the street shot him with a high-powered rifle.

No ambulance came.

A neighbor took him to the whites-only hospital. Doctors were unsure if they should treat him. They were out of "Negro blood" and feared they could lose their medical licenses if they used white blood to try to save a black man.

Then, a white doctor stepped in and said none of that mattered and worked valiantly to try to save the life of Medgar Evers, who had served this country at the invasion of Normandy.

He died about 40 minutes after being shot.

The bullet entered his back, came out his chest, went through a window, went through an interior wall leading to the kitchen and left a dent in the refrigerator.

I touched that dent today. Then, I went into the bedroom and saw the mattresses on the floor with the Teddy Bears on them.

I have never before felt history the way I felt it today.

After reading this post, I researched Medgar Evers a bit more. Not only is the tragic story of his assassination true, but it was another 31 years before his killer was brought to justice. It's not that they didn't know who the murderer was—it was that two all-white juries had deadlocked on whether or not to find him guilty.

Evers was murdered in 1963. That's the year my mother graduated from high school, a mere 12 years before I was born. My grandmother, who is still alive, was 38. This is modern, recent history.

And it's not like his assassination was a one-off fluke. He built his damn house with this very real possibility in mind. Can you imagine people shooting bullets into the house where you live with your children not once, not twice, but three times? Can you imagine your family having to watch TV on the floor because people wanted you dead simply for advocating for equal rights?

Too often, the dominant narrative of civil rights history downplays the violent, virulent backlash against it. We get the feel-good "I Have a Dream" speech and forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. was viewed by many as a dangerous radical. We celebrate the passage of the Civil Rights Act and forget that almost 100% of Senators and Representatives from the eleven former confederate states—both Republicans and Democrats—voted against it.

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And those people—both the ones who wanted civil rights leaders dead and the ones who voted against the legal rights for which they risked their lives—didn't just miraculously change their minds on race simply because the law changed. Some may have had a change of heart over the years—it's entirely possible—but not all. Some of those people are still alive today with kids and grandkids that they passed their racist hatred onto. Some of their descendants may have rejected their racism—some, but not all.

I see so many people claim that racism is no longer an issue in America—that people who bring up race and racism do so as a political talking point as opposed to a deeply ingrained reality affecting people's daily lives. But two generations of my family who are still alive were grown adults when a white supremacist killed Medgar Evers. Two generations of my family who are still alive were adults when well-respected white supremacists (which should be an oxymoron, but wasn't then) in the community covered for him. There's no way we have weeded out that disease from our society when this is our modern history.

I mean, it hasn't even been an entire lifetime since a decent percentage of white people would lose their mind if a black person used the same drinking fountain as them. We have video documentation of hotel owners pouring bleach into their swimming pools while black people swam in them because they performed the sin of putting their bodies into the same water that white people used.

How far do you have to dehumanize someone to refuse to touch the same water as them? How low do you have to consider black people that you think those who ask for equality deserve to be killed? That's not just racial prejudice; it's violent, racist hatred. It's blatant white supremacy. And it wasn't that long ago, America.

It just wasn't that long ago.

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

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Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

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Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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