Myrlie Evers-Williams, author, civil rights activist and past chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), will be the keynote speaker for Black History Month at Washington and Lee University. Her talk will be Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. in the First Baptist Church with a reception to follow.
The title of Evers-Williams talk is “Tomorrow’s Leaders: Their Voices, Our Journey.” It is free and open to the public.
Evers-Williams was the first female to chair the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. She helped the NAACP at a time of debt and poor image from a scandal involving former executive director Benjamin Chavis’s use of funds to get rid of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Her frankness and optimism helped the organization begin anew.
She met Medgar Evers, then Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP, when they were in college. They worked to organize voter-registration drives and civil rights demonstrations. In 1963, Evers was shot by a sniper in front of their home.
Evers-Williams earned her bachelor’s degree at Pomona College and in 1967, she co-wrote a book about her murdered husband, “For Us, the Living.” She continued to make numerous personal appearances on behalf of the NAACP.
She remained active in civil rights work and politics, running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1970 and serving as commissioner of public works for Los Angeles in 1987. She also worked for an advertising agency, and she was the director of community affairs for a Los Angeles corporation. In 1988, she became the first black woman to be named to the five-member Board of Public Works by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, where she helped oversee a budget of nearly $1 billion.
After her term as NAACP chair ended in 1998, Evers-Williams decided to establish the Medgar Evers Institute to promote education, training and economic development.
In 1999, she published her memoir “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.
Evers-Williams has continued to preserve the memory of her first husband with one of her latest projects, serving as editor of “The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed through His Writings, Letters and Speeches” (2005).