It was hot in Jackson, Miss., a torrid 102°. It was hotter still in the barnlike Masonic Hall in the Negro quarter on Lynch Street. There was no air conditioning, no electric fan. The 4,000 Negro people who squeezed into every seat, into every bit of floor space on the stage, in the aisles, along the walls, turned their faces to a flag-draped coffin. Trumpeters arose and began to play a dirge. The people sang: "Be not dismayed, God will take care of you."
This was the funeral of a man whose name was unknown one day and headlined across the nation the next. He was Medgar Evers, 37, Negro, father of three, N.A.A.C.P. field representative in Mississippi. A few nights before, he had been ambushed, shot in the back.
"They Saw It All." It was just past midnight, less than seven hours after President Kennedy's "moral crisis" speech to the nation, when Evers drove up to his Jackson home. He got out of his car with a bundle of T shirts, to be handed out next morning to civil rights demonstrators. Across the front of the T shirts was stamped: JIM CROW MUST GO. Evers took only a few steps. Then, from a honeysuckle thicket about 150 ft. away, came a shot.
The bullet tore into Evers' back, plowed through his body, pierced a window and a wall in the house, and came to rest beneath a watermelon on a kitchen counter. Evers' wife Myrlie cried to her three small children to fall to the floor. She ran outside. "Medgar was lying there on the doorstep in a pool of blood," she said. "I tried to get the children away. But they saw it allthe blood and the bullet hole that went right through him."
Soon state and local cops, along with FBI agents, were scouring Mississippi for clues. They found the assassin's weapona Springfield rifle mounted with a new telescopic sightin the honeysuckle patch across from Evers' house.
The Target. The ugliness of the act aside, the killer of Medgar Evers could only have hurt his own blind cause. The national reaction was instantaneous. President Kennedy called it "appalling." In Mississippi, even segregationist Governor Ross Barnett denounced this "apparently dastardly act." Rewards totaling $21,000 were posted for information leading to the arrest of the killer.
As it happened, Medgar Evers, a World War II Army veteran, graduate of Mississippi's Alcorn A. & M. College, varsity football player and onetime insurance agent, was quite a man. And he had premonitions of martyrdom. "I'm not afraid of dying," he recently said. "It might do some good." As the N.A.A.C.P.'s only fulltime worker in Mississippi, he was a constant target for threats, but he pursued his course nevertheless. He directed a big civil rights rally in Jackson recently that brought in such big-name Negroes as Lena Horne. Only a few weeks before his death, somebody tossed a gasoline-filled bottle into his carport (it did not explode). "If I die," he said the next day, "it will be in a good cause. I've been fighting for America just as much as the soldiers in Viet Nam."