The Secretary of the Interior announced yesterday that the Medgar and Myrlie Evers House, operated as a museum by Tougaloo College, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest honor for historic places.
Here are the relevant bits of the press release:
WASHINGTON – As the National Park Service enters its second century of service and strives to tell a more inclusive and diverse story of America’s history, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced the designation of 24 new National Historic Landmarks.
The National Historic Landmarks Program recognizes historic properties of exceptional value to the nation and promotes the preservation efforts of federal, state, and local agencies and Native American tribes, as well as those of private organizations and individuals. The program is one of more than a dozen administered by the National Park Service that provide states and local communities technical assistance, recognition and funding to help preserve our nation’s shared history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities.
“These 24 new designations depict different threads of the American story that have been told through activism, architecture, music, and religious observance,” said Secretary Jewell. “Their designation ensures future generations have the ability to learn from the past as we preserve and protect the historic value of these properties and the more than 2,500 other landmarks nationwide.”
- The assassination of Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963, in the carport of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers House in Jackson, Mississippi, became one of the catalysts for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His assassination also forced Myrlie Evers into a more prominent role for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both Medgar and Myrlie were major contributors to advancing the goals of the civil rights movement on a national level. Medgar Evers was the first nationally significant civil rights leader to be murdered.
As I mentioned in November when the New Capitol was designated as an NHL, National Historic Landmarks are distinct from National Register-listed buildings and districts in that NHLs are considered nationally significant and must meet a high level of architectural integrity. National Register properties may be listed for local and state significance, and so there are over 90,000 National Register properties, while there are only 2,500 NHLs. Both programs are administered by the National Park Service.
The nomination, written by Jennifer Baughn, MDAH Chief Architectural Historian, runs to 26 pages plus photos of the house’s exterior and interior, a historic photo taken the day after Evers’ assassination, and a reconstructed drawing of how the crime took place. Here’s an excerpt:
The Everses accomplished their significant work in the civil rights movement while residing and often working from this suburban Ranch home. Medgar Wiley Evers was the first Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). From 1955 until his assassination in 1963, he was involved in almost every significant civil rights event in Mississippi, the heart of the segregated Jim Crow system, during the most important period of the civil rights movement when the movement transformed from a few scattered regional voices to an organized national chorus. His leadership in the state known as the “deepest bastion of segregation” made him a significant figure on the national civil rights stage. Evers’ steady but passionate work for civil rights and his calm leadership abilities earned him a reputation as NAACP’s “Man in Mississippi,” someone who could be relied on to make good decisions in a crisis.
Evers’ reports to his NAACP headquarters show that he led most public civil rights activities in the state, especially voter registration efforts and press releases to bring attention to the murders and lynchings of African Americans that normally did not get covered in the white press. He also helped organize local chapters of the NAACP around the state and the small but significant NAACP youth councils that developed the next generation of civil rights leaders. Medgar Evers’ diplomatic sense and tactical vision for keeping the movement united led him to help Tom Gaither of CORE, Robert Moses of SNCC, and Aaron Henry, Mississippi’s NAACP president, to create the Congress of Federated Organizations (COFO) in 1961 as a forum for the various civil rights groups in Mississippi to work together under a single umbrella and to speak with a unified voice to political leaders.
Working behind the scenes, Medgar Evers played a significant role in the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. In a case that would make its way all the way to the Supreme Court, James Meredith became the first African American to enroll at the University of Mississippi, albeit under the protection of federal marshals (Lyceum-The Circle Historic District, NHL, 2008). Evers’ patient and strategic thinking led in the early 1960s to “the NAACP’s subtle but noticeable shift toward direct action” in Mississippi, according to Evers biographer Michael Vinson Williams. Direct action campaigns that he helped organize included the beach wade-ins on the Mississippi Coast beginning in 1959, the library read-in by nine Tougaloo College students in 1961, and the boycott of businesses in downtown Jackson that discriminated against African Americans.
Myrlie Evers was Medgar’s partner in life and work—civil rights work was all-consuming and dangerous. The couple both faced threats and harassment because of Medgar’s work around the state. Myrlie served as Medgar’s secretary during his first two years as field secretary before the demands of being a wife and mother led to her decision (with resistance from Medgar) to stay home. A large part of her time at home was spent hosting civil rights leaders, often overnight, and also sheltering black victims of abuse and threats from the white power structure that controlled all levels of local and state government in Mississippi.
The assassination of Medgar Evers in the driveway of his carport in June 1963 was the first such murder of a national civil rights leader. It forced President John F. Kennedy to push forward with civil rights legislation that eventually passed, after Kennedy’s own assassination, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Further, her husband’s assassination and public funeral propelled Myrlie Evers onto the national stage as a prominent civil rights leader and sought-after speaker for the NAACP, a career that culminated in the 1990s with a term as chair of the NAACP board of directors.