The civil rights activist talks about her role in the inauguration, the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute and singing at Carnegie Hall.
Myrlie Evers-Williams makes it clear that, despite the fact that she was not a member of any organized clergy, she nonetheless has a distinctive perspective to her role in delivering the invocation at President Obama’s second inauguration.
“I come from a deeply religious family, and I had a very religious grandmother and we learned the power of prayer,” she said, in an interview with BET.com. “Does one have to be a clergyman to pray publicly? I don’t think so. I would like to think that I have exemplified a persona that speaks to my faith.”
And so, Evers-Williams, the widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, will be the first layperson to give an invocation at a presidential inauguration. It is a landmark role that she said represents a great honor in a life filled with achievements.
“I consider this an incredible honor,” she said. “I am honored by being in a position to make a contribution.”
Evers-Williams is a civil rights activist in her own right, who has worked for years to seek justice for the murder of her late husband Medgar Evers, an NAACP official who was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963. For decades, she worked to see Medgar Evers’ assassin brought to justice. After about 30 years, in 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted.
She later served as chairwoman of the NAACP, has run for Congress in California and has published books on civil rights and the legacy of Medgar Evers. She later married Walter Williams, former longshoreman and civil rights activist, who died in 1995.
After serving as chair of the NAACP, she established the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute in Mississippi, which seeks to develop new generations of young people in civic engagement. Evers-Williams, a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, is also a distinguished scholar at Alcorn State University, the historically Black Mississippi college where she and Medgar Evers first met as students in 1950. She was an education and music major.
“It’s exciting being back in Mississippi and to work with young people,” she said. “Young people today have a different approach to solving problems. And it’s exciting to have discussions with them and share different points of view.”
While she considers delivering the invocation at the Obama inauguration to be an honor, she said she recently accomplished another longtime dream. In December, she performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, singing, playing piano and offering recitations.
“It was a wonderful experience, something I had always dreamt of doing,” Evers-Williams said. “Music was one of the things that attracted my husband to me. I have been blessed.”
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(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NAACP)