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Charles Evers

Charles Evers 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. When an assassin shot and killed Medgar in 1963, Charles Evers took over Medgar's post as head of the NAACP in Mississippi.

In 1969, Charles Evers was elected the first Black mayor in Mississippi since Reconstruction, when Fayette, Mississippi elected him its mayor.

Fayette was by then a majority Black town, but to say that African-Americans had not enjoyed full voting rights there is an understatement. Fayette had no industry, which meant it had almost no residents who had grown up outside the area. It was known as a very mean town toward 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 even resonance nationally. 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 250 pounds with grace. ("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, paving the way for other Black politicians to seek statewide office.

Born in 1922 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 unchristian, and he always saw the civil rights movement as a Christian movement teaching love and equality for all.

During World War Two, Charles and Medgar Evers both served in the U.S. Army. Charles fell in love with a Philippina woman overseas but could not marry her and live with her in Mississippi because her skin was white.

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.

Around 1956, Evers's entrepreneurial gifts and his civil rights activism got him in trouble in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Whites chased him out of town, and he moved up 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.

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

He 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 leaders as Roy Wilkins, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and Louis Farrakhan.

Quotes from Charles Evers's memoir:

 "Whenever you see bigotry, hypocrisy is real close by."
 "Have no fear."



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