Much of Mississippi’s and the South’s past is characterized by increased resistance to white supremacy in the face of overt and subtle racism that resulted in a multitude of crimes. These include crimes against the body, crimes against property, the collusion of public and private institutions in preventing access and opportunity to all people, and conspiracies of silence that continue today. This collection of poems seeks to interrupt that silence and shine a light on the important legacy of a civil rights icon all too often omitted from summaries of the era, by giving voice to a particular chapter in this history from multiple and often divergent points of view.
On June 12, 1963, in Jackson, Mississippi, Medgar Evers, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi, was shot in the back by Byron De La Beck-with in his own driveway and died soon after being transported to a nearby hospital by neighbors. This was the first in a series of high profile assassinations that would cast a shadow on civil rights activities in America in the early 1960s.
The primary speakers in this narrative are Byron De La Beck-with, Medgar Evers’s assassin; Beckwith’s wives, Mary Louise (Willie) and Thelma De La Beckwith; Medgar Evers’s brother, Charles; Evers’s widow, Myrlie Evers; and a sixth voice that works like a Greek chorus. Medgar Evers’s voice is silent beyond lifting his final words, “… turn me loose,” for the title, but his presence, like a ghost, speaks loudly throughout the poems.
I believe acknowledging and working to fully understand history can create opportunities to better understand racism. I offer these imagined poems in hope that art can help complete the important work we continue to struggle with—the access to economic and social justice that Medgar Evers and so many others died for, and ultimately the healing and reconciliation still needed in America.