By Edelia “Dr. Jay” Carthan,
Charles Evers was an American civil rights activist, businessman, disc jockey, politician and father. Evers made history by becoming Mississippi’s first black mayor since Reconstruction in a small rural town in 1969. Evers died Wednesday, July 22, at his daughter’s home in Brandon. He was 97 years old. Evers left behind nine daughters and one son to continue his legacy.
Evers is the third civil rights leader to die within a week. Representative John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivan, both died July 17. All three prominent leaders marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.
James Charles Evers was born in Decatur, Mississippi September 11, 1922. He was the oldest of James and Jessie Wright Evers’ four children, including civil rights martyr Medgar Evers, former field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP who was assassinated in his driveway by white supreemacist and Ku Klux Klan member, Byron De La Beckwith, June 12, 1963.
A decade after Medgar’s assassnation, Evers and blues musician B.B. King created the Medgar Evers Homecoming Festival, an annual three-day event held the first week of June in honor of Medgar Evers.
Evers is a 1950 graduate of Alcorn A&M, now Alcorn State University, and served in the U.S. Army in both World War II and the Korean Conflict.
Before Evers changed his life, his was involved in bootlegging alcohol, prostitution and running numbers in Mississippi and Chicago. Evers revealed this part of his story before entering the political arena.
In 1949, Evers began his radio career at WHOC-AM in Philadelphia, Mississippi where he played blues and used his platform to encourage black listeners to register to vote. After Medgar’s assassination, Charles succeeded Medgar as field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP.
Like many civil rights leaders, Evers used economic boycotts to rally blacks to register to vote and to fight for equal treatment in the 1960s especially after the passage of the Voters Right Act of 1965.
In 1968, Evers ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, winning the Democratic first primary before losing the runoff to white contender Charles Griffin.
On June 3, 1969, Charles Evers made history when he was elected mayor of Fayette, becoming the first African American to head a multiracial town in Mississippi since Reconstruction. Evers served sixteen years as mayor of Fayette and was named Man of the Year by the NAACP. Evers was quoted as saying, “Hands that picked cotton can now pick the mayor.”
In 1971, Evers ran for governor unsuccessfully against William “Bill” Waller, the attorney who prosecuted Medgar’s murderer, Byron DeLa Bethwith and that same year, he published an autobiography entitled, Evers. He published another memoir in 1997 titled, Have No Fear.
In 1978, Evers ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate where he split the Democratic vote, and Thad Cochran won with just 45% of the vote making him the first Republican to win a statewide election in Mississippi since Reconstruction.
In 1983, Evers ran as an independent for governor but lost to Democrat Bill Allain.
Evers then joined the Republican party and endorsed Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. In 2016, Evers was one of the state’s six electoral votes casted for Donald Trump.
After retiring from politics, Evers became manager of WMPR 90.1 FM. where he hosted a weekly radio show, “Let’s Talk,” where he discussed politics, race and current events. Evers was inducted into the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2017 for his contributions to the music industry.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and the Jackson City Council held a special meeting honoring the civil rights activist. During the meeting, there was a moment of silence and a resolution was presented to the Evers family.
The City Council voted to rename the street, Pecan Park Circle to James Charles Evers Circle. The radio station Evers ran for years, WMPR 90.1FM, is located at 1018 Pecan Park Circle. “I love it,” Wanda Evers, Evers’ daughter, who manages WMPR 90.1 replied. “Well deserved.”
When asked about what she remembers most about her dad, Wanda recalled her dad saying, “If you are in charge, be in charge.” Dad was a caring loving man who took care of his community. He always talked about wanting to see his brother again. Now they both are looking down at us laughing.”
Wanda’s sibling, Charlene Evers-KreelI, recalls her dad’s interaction with a young person. “We were in a restaurant and a young person called out to dad, “Mr. Evers, Mr Evers.” He replied, “That’s me.” Were you born on 9/11?” the young man asked. Dad’s quick comeback was, “I was here first,” and they all laughed.
“He was a people’s person. He didn’t believe in all white or all black,” Charlene said. “When I asked him years ago during the Nixon administration why he switched parties, he said, “Baby, we don’t all need to be in one party.”
Wanda said they are honoring her dad with a block party, Friday at 12 noon where the city plans to officially rename the street in memory of James Charles Evers. Wanda said although he didn’t want one, there is a memorial planned for Saturday, at the Thalia Malia Hall at 11 a.m.. Only the first 500 people will be allowed to enter on a first come first served basis.
Evers requested to be cremated and his wish was that his ashes be spread across his brother’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
He was Mississippi’s mayor and will be truly missed.
Edelia Dr. Jay Carthan, contributing writer to The Mississippi Link, is executive director of Business Ministerial Alliance; assistant professor, Division of Education at Tougaloo College; The Fabulous Life by Dr. Jay Camp Fabulous 10th Anniversary http://www.iDressFabulous.com; http://www.CampFabulous.org