As we crossed the Mississippi state line that Saturday morning I couldn’t help the sense of excitement that began to well up in me. I was headed to Jackson Mississippi to visit the site where a famous American hero lived and died.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the untimely death of Medgar Evers, a martyr for the cause of civil rights. He was a field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi. While not as well known as Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers was a force for change in the South and frequently dominated headlines in the state of Mississippi in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In many respects, Mississippi during that time period was the epicenter of the battle for civil rights in America.
He led voter registration drives and organized peaceful protest to have basic civil rights for honest hardworking Americans. He was a historical figure that has fascinated and inspired me for years. I went to the house where he was murdered (now converted into a museum) several years ago and was completely in awe. I would encourage you to read the book and watch the movie about his story, Ghost of Mississippi.
His calling in life was to fight for justice and equality for African Americans not only in Mississippi, but all across the United States. What he did inspires me. Not just because I studied Southern history in college, was raised in the South, or because I am an African American. It’s what he died for. He risked his life for an age of freedom that he didn’t see at the time of his death. He hoped for a day of peace and equality for all. And he died in that hope. It reminded me of Hebrews 11 where the author gives us several examples of biblical heroes that were willing to risk it all to obey God. The first part of that chapter is quite cheery. It talks about the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah. However, at the end of the chapter, the descriptions of faith and hope turn into a dark and bleak reality.
Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.
As I pulled up to Evers’ house, I was overcome with emotion. I anticipated this to be a meaningful experience, but certainly wasn’t prepared for what I felt as I walked up to the house and stood on that driveway, where 50 years ago Medgar Evers was shot in the back in front of his wife and children by a white supremacist, named Byron De La Beckwith (who later was found not-guilty and got off free of charge for 30 years until the case was reopened and he was convicted).
I walked up the driveway to the door and tried to imagine what it would have been like as Medgar Evers crawled to the front door bleeding profusely, knowing he was about to die. I thought of what it must have been like for his family, his wife frantically trying to stop the bleeding and his children screaming for their father. Medgar Evers could’ve chosen another line of work. He had a family, a wife and three kids. Why did he choose the path that ultimately led him to his death? Standing up for what he believed in at that time in Mississippi was a death sentence.
Medgar Evers was a man that served God. He chose to be obedient to the Lord’s calling even though it led to his death. It’s that ever elusive concept of losing yourself in a cause that is much bigger than you. I walked around the house and I wondered if I could ever have the courage to do something like this man did. Medgar Evers paid a tough price for the cause he fought for. Jesus Christ knew what was going to happen to Him and the price He was going to have to pay for our transgressions and He willingly went to the cross like a sheep going to the slaughter. I silently prayed that I continue be a man of integrity and live a life of reckless abandon for the calling that God has for my life.
Its easy to get caught up in the glamorous side of Christianity. We can be too focused on the grand destiny that God has for us. Your head can be so far up in the clouds about how you’re going to do this and that for the Kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, we will accomplish wonders with Jesus, but it’s not all peachy and rosy.
Showing up to church on Sunday mornings and our little bible study here and there is not enough. God wants so much more and when I stood and looked at Medgar Evers’ house and on the driveway where he died, I was simply reminded of a man that decided to give his all for the righteous cause that he labored for and it encouraged me to be faithful and be willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus even when its hard.
Make no mistake. The Lord was with Medgar Evers and the other heroes of the civil rights movement. Dr. King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ernie Davis, and the Selma marchers cemented themselves in American history with courageous acts that bring me to tears when I read of them. The people that participated in civil rights movement were some of America’s greatest heroes and yet their stories have barely been heard. I intend to tell their tales and boy do I have grand stories to tell. Their struggle and fight for freedom will never be forgotten.
I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading.