Medgar Evers’ life and legacy are an important part of Mississippi’s historic struggle for equal rights. That is why four Jackson Episcopal churches are coming together to hold an annual “Liturgy of Racial Reconciliation Commemorating the Life and Legacy of Medgar Wiley Evers” at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral.
Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, will be the guest speaker. The noted civil rights activist and former NAACP president currently lives on the campus of Alcorn State University, where she is a distinguished scholar-in-residence.
She also serves as chairwoman of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute, with the mission of championing civil rights with a focus on history, education and reconciliation, especially among young people.
Judy Barnes, a member of St. Alexis Episcopal Church in downtown Jackson, said the service was the idea of Bishop Duncan Gray III of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, who activated an anti-racism task force in 2010 and wanted to acknowledge several upcoming 50th anniversaries in Mississippi’s civil rights history.
These include the Freedom Riders activism in Jackson, James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi, the assassination of Evers, the murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia and the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Each year, on the Sunday closest to Evers’ June 12 death, All Saints, St. Alexis, St. Christopher’s and St. Mark’s Episcopal churches host a worship service in memory of Evers with special guest speakers.
“My hope is that we never forget the sacrifices that Medgar Evers and many others made to ensure civil rights for everyone who had been denied those rights for many years,” said Barnes. “He had courage to do what was necessary even at great personal risk. … Abraham Lincoln defined courage as, ‘not the absence of fear, but action in spite of fear.’
“I think if Evers were alive now, he would be involved in ensuring voting rights that could be impacted by new photo ID laws. Perhaps he would be in Washington, working to protect student aid, WIC, Head Start, the Affordable Care Act, veterans’ benefits.”
Barnes said, although he is no longer here, there is still work to do.
“He is a hero and example for his time and for ours,” she said.
Bishop Duncan Gray, III, said the public is invited to attend the services.
It is: “An appreciation of the life and legacy of Medgar Evers with a reminder that the path of freedom is forged by the blood of martyrs,” Gray said.
Raphiell Ashford, the organist and choirmaster at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, is a member of the Racial Reconciliation Task Force.
“One of the goals of the Racial Reconciliation Task Force is to highlight milestones (anniversaries) in Mississippi’s Civil Rights History,” said Ashford. “Having the 50th anniversary service at the cathedral will hopefully inspire more citizens from Jackson and the surrounding areas to attend.
“What I hope people take away from the service is a feeling of deep appreciation for the life and work of Medgar Evers. It is my hope that people will be inspired in their daily lives and work to seek justice for all people, acknowledge and rectify wrongs, forgive, and love one another as Christ loves us.
“Although Medgar Evers is no longer with us, his legacy lives on and must not be forgotten. His brave works should be remembered, and his death should not be in vain.”
A reception will follow St. Andrew’s parish hall. An offering will be collected to support the work of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute. For details, visit eversinstitute.org.