Stories produced by students in the Meek School of Journalism & New Media
June 12 marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
In 1963, the Evers was assassinated outside his home in Jackson, Miss. His murderer, a white supremacist and Klansman named Byron De La Beckwith, was prosecuted twice in 1964. Both trials resulted in hung juries and De La Beckwith walked free until 1994, when a new trial convicted him of first degree murder.
A regional conference for the Society of Professional Journalists began April 5 in Oxford with a panel discussion featuring Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams.
The event celebrated Medgar Evers’ life and accomplishments, while providing an opportunity to highlight the important role played by journalist Jerry Mitchell in getting a conviction.
“It takes more than one person to bring criminals to justice,” Evers-Williams said. “God has his helpers.”
Mitchell is an investigative journalist with the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. who, with Evers-Williams, was able to re-open the case that eventually brought about the conviction of Medgar Evers’ assassin.
“The thing I love about journalism is, we’re trying to make a difference and we’re trying to give voices to people that don’t have voices,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell’s investigative journalism has focused on the unsolved murder cases of many civil rights leaders and African-Americans from the 1950s and 1960s.
“As journalists, it’s our job to expose wrongdoing. You expose it, and it’s up to society to decide what they’re going to do about it.”
Mitchell has received several awards for his investigations into various cold case murders, which have led to 24 convictions,. Many of those convicted were Klansmen.
“It’s always stuck in my craw, people getting away with murder, it’s always bothered me,” Mitchell said.
Leslie B. McLemore is a former regional leader of the NAACP and worked closely with Medgar Evers during the civil rights movement. McLemore has some suggestions for future journalists.
“What we have to do is get down to the local level, the grassroots. There are so many stories that have to be told at the local level, in terms of changing the nature of the quality of life in Mississippi.”
He sees journalists playing a significant role in that change.
“I think as we move forward, as a state, journalism can tell the story of the haves and the have-nots, in such a way as to educate the people. There are so many stories out there that should be mined, and we should ensure that they are covered.”