Evers in October 2009
|Born||James Charles Evers
September 11, 1922
Decatur, Newton County
Mississippi, United States
|Occupation||Civil rights activist
Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi
James Charles Evers (born September 11, 1922) is a civil rights activist and the older brother of Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963. In 1969, Charles Evers was elected in Fayette, Mississippi as the first African-American mayor in the state in the post-Reconstruction era, following passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which enforced constitutional rights for citizens. He ran for governor in 1971 and the United States Senate in 1978, both times as an Independent candidate.
Early life and education
Born in Decatur in Newton County in east central Mississippi, Evers was reared by devoutly Christian parents, Jesse (Wright) and James Evers. He had a younger brother Medgar, with whom he was close. They attended segregated public schools, which were typically underfunded in Mississippi following the exclusion of African Americans from the political system by disenfranchisement after 1890.
During World War II, Charles and Medgar Evers both served in the United States Army. Charles fell in love with a Filipino woman while stationed overseas. He could not marry her and bring her home to his native Mississippi because the state prohibited interracial marriages. Mississippi's 1890 constitution also had effectively disenfranchised blacks and many poor whites by requiring payment of a poll tax and passing a literacy test to register to vote. The state legislature established racial segregation in public facilities and other Jim Crow laws. This exclusion from the political system was largely enforced against African Americans until after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized federal oversight and enforcement of constitutional rights. Since then African Americans continue to vote at a high rate in Mississippi.
Before and after the war, Evers participated in bootlegging operations, prostitution, and numbers in Mississippi and Chicago. He revealed this part of his past in 1971 prior to his campaign for governor. He said he was not proud of it, but was proud that he had changed his life and left such crime activities far behind.
In Mississippi about 1951, brothers Charles and Medgar Evers grew interested in African freedom movements. They were interested in Jomo Kenyatta and the rise of the Kikuyu tribal resistance to colonialism in Kenya, known as the "Mau-Mau" Rebellion as it moved to open violence. Along with his brother, Charles became active in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a civil rights organization that promoted self-help and business ownership. He was inspired by Dr. T. R. M. Howard, the president of the RCNL, who was one of the wealthiest blacks in the state. Between 1952 and 1955, Evers often spoke at the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou, a town founded by freedmen, on such issues as voting rights.
Around 1956, Evers' entrepreneurial gifts and his civil rights activism landed him in trouble in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He left town and moved to Chicago, Illinois. There, he fell into a life of hustling, running numbers for organized crime, and managing prostitutes. His brother Medgar continued to be involved in civil rights, becoming field secretary and head of the NAACP in Mississippi.
In 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, member of a KKK chapter, fatally shot Medgar Evers in Mississippi as he arrived home from work. Evers died at the hospital in Jackson. Charles was shocked and deeply upset by his brother's assassination. Over the opposition of more establishment figures in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) such as Roy Wilkins, Charles took over his brother's post as head of the NAACP in Mississippi.
In 1969, following passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized federal enforcement of the right to vote, Charles Evers was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi. He was the first African-American mayor elected in his state since Reconstruction. In a rural area dominated by cotton plantations, Fayette had a majority of black residents. Its minority white community was known to be hostile toward blacks.
Evers' election as mayor had great symbolic significance statewide and attracted national attention. The NAACP named Evers the 1969 Man of the Year. Author John Updike mentioned Evers in his popular novel Rabbit Redux (1971). Evers popularized the slogan, "Hands that picked cotton can now pick the mayor."
Evers served many terms as mayor of Fayette. Admired by some, he alienated others with his inflexible stands on various issues. Evers did not like to share or delegate power. Kenneth Middleton, a political rival who finally defeated Evers in a mayoral election, used the slogan: "We've seen what Fayette can do for one man. Now let's see what one man can do for Fayette."
In 1971 Evers ran in the gubernatorial general election but was defeated by Democrat William "Bill" Waller, 601,222 (77 percent) to 172,762 (22.1 percent). Waller had prosecuted the murder case of suspect Byron De La Beckwith. When Waller gave a victory speech on election night, Evers drove across town to a local TV station to congratulate him. A reporter later wrote that
"Waller's aides learned Evers was in the building and tried to hustle the governor-elect out of the studio as soon as the interview ended. They were not quite quick enough. Surrounded by photographers, reporters, and television crews, Evers approached Waller's car just as it was about to pull out. Waller and his wife were in the back seat. 'I just wanted to congratulate you,' said Evers. 'Whaddya say, Charlie?' boomed Waller. His wife leaned across with a stiff smile and shook the loser's hand." During the campaign Evers told reporters that his main purpose in running was to encourage registration of black voters.
In 1978, Evers ran as an Independent for the US Senate seat vacated by Democrat James O. Eastland. He finished in third place behind his opponents, Democrat Maurice Dantin and Republican Thad Cochran. He received 24 percent of the vote, likely siphoning off African-American votes that would have otherwise gone to Dantin. Cochran won the election with a plurality of 45 percent of the vote. With the shift in white voters moving into the Republican Party in the state (and the rest of the South), Cochran was continuously re-elected to his Senate seat.
In 1983, Evers ran as an Independent for governor of Mississippi but lost to the Democrat Bill Allain. Republican Leon Bramlett of Clarksdale, also known as a college All-American football player, finished second with 39 percent of the vote.
Evers later attracted controversy for his support of judicial nominee Charles W. Pickering, a Republican, who was nominated by President George H. W. Bush for a seat on the US Court of Appeals. Evers criticized the NAACP and other organizations for opposing Pickering, as he said the candidate had a record of supporting the civil rights movement in Mississippi.
Evers has befriended a range of people from sharecroppers to presidents. He was an informal adviser to politicians as diverse as Lyndon B. Johnson, George C. Wallace, Ronald W. Reagan and Robert F. Kennedy. On the other hand, Evers has severely criticized such national leaders as Roy Wilkins, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and Louis Farrakhan over various issues.
- "Evers, James Charles (1922- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". Blackpast.org. 1922-09-11. Retrieved 2015-03-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Associated Press (14 Apr 1971). "Evers Isn't Proud of Past History". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved 25 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Thomas Powers, "Letter from a Lost Campaign," Harper's Magazine, March 1972.
- Charles Evers and Andrew Szanton, Have No Fear, Have No * Beito, David and Linda (2009). Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03420-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Dittmer, John (1994). Local People: the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02102-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
- Charles M. Payne, I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1945 book).