WMU News

Civil rights leader headlines MLK celebration

Jan. 3, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- The Northside Ministerial Alliance and Western Michigan University are revving up for their first joint celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Kicking off Southwest Michigan's observance of the King holiday, the 2003 MLK Celebration will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12,. in WMU's Miller Auditorium. Myrlie Evers-Williams, activist and widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, will deliver the celebration's keynote address. The theme for this year's collaborative event, which is free and open to the public, is "Moving the Dream into the Community: Civil Rights to Social Justice."

In past years, the Northside Ministerial Alliance and the ecumenical community held their event in Chenery Auditorium the Sunday before the MLK holiday, while the University's annual convocation took place during its MLK Week celebration. The 2003 partnership is believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

"The members of our joint planning committee have developed an impressive program," says Deveta Gardner, chairperson of WMU's Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. "The University community is fortunate to have benefited from the leadership of the Northside Ministerial Alliance. We're thrilled that our first partnership will be blessed by the presence and wisdom of Myrlie Evers-Williams, an important civil rights figure in this nation. We believe that after this program, people will be inspired to truly move Dr. King's dream into the community. This is an event people won't want to miss."

In addition to Evers-Williams' address, the celebration will include performances by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Choir and students from WMU's Department of Dance, a litany tribute to Dr. King's dream, and remarks from WMU Interim President Daniel M. Litynski and Northside Ministerial Alliance President Pastor J. Louis Felton.

"The Northside Ministerial Alliance is very pleased to partner with WMU in the celebration of the life and living legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," says Felton. "We are looking forward to paying homage to one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century. This collaborative celebration will be one of the greatest moments in the history of our community as we call together all faiths, all creeds, all ethnicities, all walks of life. Now is the time for all of us to overcome any differences and celebrate our commonalities."

Myrlie Evers-Williams is the widow of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers and the first woman to serve full time as chairperson of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She is the author of "For Us, The Living," a book that depicts the life of her late husband and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. Published in 1999, her memoirs are titled "Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be." Evers-Williams is also featured in the book and exhibit, "I Dream A World, Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America."

WMU's Martin Luther King Jr. Committee is dedicated to furthering social justice by engaging in meaningful education, research and service initiatives, and by coordinating events throughout the WMU and Kalamazoo communities. The Northside Ministerial Alliance, which partners with leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and other faiths to plan its MLK celebration, is an ecumenical body that strives to combat ignorance and apathy through education and grants to nonprofit organizations.

Western Michigan University is also sponsoring a series of King-inspired events slated for Jan. 15-24 [related story]. Additional information about these events is available online at <www.wmich.edu/mlkday> and in WMU News.

Media contact: Jessica English, 269 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

Myrlie Evers-Williams

The journey of Myrlie Evers-Williams has taken her from the dusty roads of Mississippi to the forefront of the struggle for racial equality, from young girl to respected woman, from tragic figure to triumphant individual.

She is a symbol of the civil rights movement and all of the sacrifices that were made in the name of freedom. Myrlie Evers' life changed forever on June 12, 1963, when she and her children watched helplessly as her husband, Medgar Evers, was shot to death on the front lawn of their home in Jackson, Miss., an event that turned him into a martyr and turned her into a single parent with little money as the war over skin color raged around her and across the country.

Medgar and Myrlie Evers had lived in danger ever since they had opened the first National Association for the Advancement of Colored People field office in Mississippi and began investigating violence and discrimination against African-Americans. After her husband's death, Myrlie saw two trials of the accused assassin end in hung juries. It wasn't until 31 years after Medgar's death that white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. The story was made into an acclaimed movie, Ghosts of Mississippi, starring Whoopi Goldberg and James Woods.

Evers-Williams went on to experience many career triumphs, including becoming the first African-American woman named as commissioner on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works (1988), and the first woman to serve full-time as chairperson of the NAACP (1995 to 1998). She raised her three children to become successes in their own right, and she fell in love with and married Walter Edward Williams, a longshoreman and union organizer who captured her heart 10 years after Medgar was killed.

Evers-Williams is currently chairman emeritus of the NAACP. She is the author of the book "For Us, The Living," which depicts the life of her late husband Medgar and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. She is featured in the book and exhibit, "I Dream A World, Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America." In 1999, she published her memoirs, "Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be," which charts her journey from being the wife of an activist to becoming a community leader in her own right.

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