June 12, 1963: Medgar Evers is assassinated.
Medgar Evers was a civil rights activist who, until his assassination on June 12, 1963 outside his home in Mississippi, worked with the NAACP in his home state to organize marches, lead protests and boycotts, and help disenfranchised African-Americans register to vote. Evers was not the first or only activist to be murdered while serving in the Deep South during this period, nor was he as publicly recognized as Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr., but his murder remains one of the most infamous events of the Civil Rights Movement.
Evers was shot and killed in his own driveway, in front of his children, as he exited his car the morning after President John F. Kennedy delivered an address in support of civil rights, which urged the American public to stand behind a piece of legislation which would later become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a prominent black civil rights leader within his own community, Evers and his family were targeted by militant white supremacists with threats of violence and with violent acts up until his assassination. The man who shot at Evers and killed him with a single bullet to the back in the early hours of June 12 was one of these supremacists, a member of the White Citizens’ Council (and later of the KKK) named Byron De La Beckwith, who was tried twice — and acquitted twice, by all-white, all-male juries — for Evers’ murder. De La Beckwith was finally convicted thirty-one years later in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison; Evers, a US Army sergeant who served for three years in the European Theatre of World War II, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The next week, President Kennedy submitted to Congress his promised civil rights bill.