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

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.

Photo courtesy of Yoplait
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When Benny Mendez asked his middle school P.E. students why they wanted to participate in STOKED—his new after school program where kids can learn to skateboard, snowboard, and surf—their answers surprised him.

I want to be able to finally see the beach, students wrote. I want to finally be able to see the snow.

Never having seen snow is understandable for Mendez's students, most who live in Inglewood, CA, just outside of Los Angeles. But never having been to the beach is surprising, since most of them only live 15-20 minutes from the ocean. Mendez discovered many of them don't even know how to swim.

"A lot of the kids shared that they just want to go on adventures," says Mendez. "They love nature, but...they just see it in pictures. They want to be out there."

Mendez is in his third year of teaching physical education at View Park K-8 school, one of seven Inner City Foundation Education schools in the Los Angeles area. While many of his students are athletically gifted, Mendez says, they often face challenges outside of school that limit their opportunities. Some of them live in neighborhoods where it's unsafe to leave their houses at certain times of day due to gang activity, and many students come to his P.E. class with no understanding of why learning about physical health is important.

"There's a lot going on at home [with my students]," says Mendez. "They're coming from either a single parent home, or foster care. There's a lot of trauma behind what's going on at home...that is out of our control."

Photo courtesy of Yoplait

What Mendez can control is what he gives his students when they're in his care, which is understanding, some structure, and the chance to try new things. Mendez wakes up at 4:00 a.m. most days and often doesn't get home until 9:00 p.m. as he works tirelessly to help kids thrive. Not only does he run after school programs, but he coaches youth soccer on the weekends as well. He also works closely with other teachers and guidance counselors at the school to build strong relationships with students, and even serves as a mentor to his former students who are now in high school.

Now Mendez is earning accolades far and wide for his efforts both in and out of the classroom, including a surprise award from Yoplait and Box Tops for Education.

Yoplait and Box Tops are partnering this school year to help students reach their fullest potential, which includes celebrating teachers and programs that support that mission. Yoplait is committed to providing experiences for kids and families to connect through play, so teaming up with Box Tops provided an opportunity to support programs like STOKED.

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Over the past 30-plus years, there has been a sea change when it comes to public attitudes about LGBT issues in America. In 1988, only 11% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while in 2020, that number jumped to 70%

Even though there is a lot more work to do for full LGBTQ equality in the U.S. the country is far ahead of most of the world. According to Human Dignity Trust, 71 jurisdictions around the world "criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity," many of these specifically calling out sexual practices between men.

In 11 jurisdictions, people who engage in consensual same-sex sexual activity face the possibility of the death penalty for their behavior. "At least 6 of these implement the death penalty – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen – and the death penalty is a legal possibility in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and UAE," Human Dignity Trust says.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!