Charles Evers

Charles Evers (b. 1922) has been an important civil rights figure. Older brother of the civil rights martyr, Medgar Evers, he introduced Medgar to the US civil rights movement.

One evening in 1963 an assassin shot Medgar Evers as Mr. Evers came home from work. As his children begged him to get up, Mr. Evers spiraled toward death and died in an ambulance. Charles Evers was shocked and deeply upset by news of his brother's death. He took over Medgar's post as head of the NAACP in Mississippi, over the opposition of more established figures in the NAACP, like Roy Wilkins. Many observers likened Medgar Evers to a "saint," in his religious faith, his total devotion to the cause of civil rights and his disregard for his own safety. By contrast, Charles Evers was an unabashed "sinner."

Nevertheless, Mr. Evers did important work leading registration and voting drives in Mississippi, often defying death threats in the process. In 1969 Charles Evers was elected Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi and was the first African-American mayor in Mississippi since Reconstruction. By then, Fayette had a majority of blacks, but African-Americans had not enjoyed full voting rights there. Fayette had no industry, which meant it had almost no residents who had grown up outside the area. It was known to be hostile towards black people.

Before becoming mayor, Charles Evers had worked as a cotton picker, dishwasher, bootlegger and short-order cook; as a soldier, cab driver, deejay, and funeral home director -- and as a foot soldier in the civil rights movement, signing up black voters. His swearing-in as mayor had enormous symbolic significance statewide and it resonated nationally, as well. The NAACP named Evers their 1969 Man of the Year. John Updike mentioned Evers in his popular novel "Rabbit Redux." Evers popularized the slogan "Hands that picked cotton can now pick the mayor."

He had a strong physical presence and carried his 250 pounds (113 kg) with grace. (He is quoted as saying, "I'll march, I'll picket, but I don't believe in no hunger strikes.") He had the endurance, the driving ambition and the gall of the successful politician -- but never the innate caution.

Charles Evers later ran for Governor of Mississippi, losing the race but showing the way for African-American candidates of the future.

Born in Decatur, Mississippi, Evers had a strong, devoutly Christian mother and a fearless father. He learned from his parents that racism was not only wrong but un-Christian, and he always saw the civil rights movement as a Christian movement teaching love, liberation and equality for all.

During World War II, Charles and Medgar Evers both served in the U.S. Army. Charles fell in love with a Filipino woman overseas but could not marry her and take her back with him to Mississippi because of her "white" skin color.

Back in Mississippi, around 1951, Charles and Medgar Evers grew very interested in Jomo Kenyatta and his use of the "mau-mau" movement to free the nation of Kenya from colonial shackles in Africa. Along with his brother, he became active in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a civil rights organization that also promoted self-help and business ownership. He drew inspiration from Dr. T.R.M. Howard, the president of the RCNL, who was one the wealthiest blacks in the state. Evers often spoke at the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1955 on such issues as voting rights.

Around 1956, Evers's entrepreneurial gifts and his civil rights activism landed him in trouble in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He left town and moved to Chicago.

In Chicago, Evers says that he vowed to support the movement back home, and fell into a life of hustling, running numbers for the mob and managing prostitutes. The money he made is said to have been substantial, and much of it was sent back to help the movement.

Evers served many terms as mayor of Fayette. Admired by some, he alienated others with his inflexible stands on various town issues. Evers did not like to share or delegate power.

He has also attracted controversy for his support of judicial nominee Charles W. Pickering, in contrast to organizations such as the Mississippi NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus. He remains distrusted by some blacks for allegedly cooperating with the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

Charles Evers has befriended an astonishing range of people from sharecroppers to presidents. He was an informal advisor to politicians as diverse as Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert Kennedy, George Wallace and Ronald Reagan.

Using humor and a knack for the unexpected to keep his critics and opponents off-balance, Evers has also heaped scorn on black leaders who, he believes, are charlatans or have not "paid the price." Rare for a leader, he is willing to attach names to his criticisms, rather than to let them stand as a general exhortation. Charles Evers has been highly critical of such black community leaders as Roy Wilkins, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and Louis Farrakhan.

Evers is a prominent member of the Mississippi Republican party.

Charles Evers has told his sad, complex and inspiring life story well in the memoir "Have No Fear."