Battle For Civil Rights Remembered

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As Dan Rather prepares to end his 24-year tenure as anchor of CBS Evening News, he looks back at some of the stories he reported through the years.


When James Meredith stepped up to the door of the University of Mississippi in September 1962, hatred overruled the law of the land.

As CBS News Anchor Dan Rather reports, it took the federal courts and federal troops to get Meredith in, and two people died in riots the night before he started classes.

Asked by Rather in 1962 why he wanted to enter the University of Mississippi, Meredith said: "Well, I think that every citizen should have an opportunity to receive an education in his own state."

The first African American enrolled meant the color line was crossed but not overcome.

"In those days we couldn't register, we couldn't vote, we couldn't go to any of the schools," recalls Charles Evers.

Years before Meredith applied, Charles Evers' brother, Medgar, tried to get into the University of Mississippi. When he became leader of Mississippi's branch of the NAACP, he fought for Meredith and took on the most dangerous assignment of all: signing up African-Americans to vote.

It's hard for any American who wasn't alive during that time to imagine what it was - not just in Mississippi, but in a number of places at that time.

"That was just 40 years ago, just 40 years ago," says Charles Evers. "Remember, we couldn't even walk down the street.

"If you bumped against a white woman that was suicide."

By the spring of 1963, demands for equal rights were met with firehoses and bullets. And on June 12, as he came home from a voter registration meeting, Medgar Evers was shot in the back and killed. He was 37 years old.

"He believed in his country," Roy Wilkins, a longtime NAACP member, said at the time. "It now remains to be seen whether his country believes in him."

"When we first met, the day after his brother's murder, Charles Evers wanted nothing to do with white people," says Rather.

"I could not let him go in vain. I was going to kill white people until they killed me, which was wrong," Evers recalls. "And somehow, then Medgar just spoke to me, I guess from the grave, and said, 'Charles that ain't the way.'"

A month after the assassination, Rather returned to Jackson, where there were widespread predictions that the capital of Mississippi might become the next major racial battleground in the South. By that time Evers was organizing for the NAACP.

"We're gonna vote solid whether they like it or not and we're not gonna use one bullet in the back of one of our white brothers to do so," Evers said at the time.

"So many things strike me when I look at that report from so many years ago," Rather tells Evers. "When I talked to you the day after, you weren't thinking about white brothers at that time."

"No," says Evers. "Well I guess like any other person, somebody kill your brother be it black, white or polka dot, you wouldn't be thinking about them either.

"I was only concerned about me and my folks."

Today, Charles Evers hosts a talk show on his own radio station in Jackson, which is now a fully desegregated city. It was a victory won by the bravest of Americans.

He says change was slow to come, adding that he never thought he'd live to see it.

"No I didn't. I thought I'd be killed long before then," he says.

His brother's killer, Byron de la Beckwith, died in prison, unrepentent, in 2001. Charles Evers says he forgives him, but will never forget.