Miss. Congressional Delegation Had Encouraged President Biden to Honor Slain Civil Rights Leader

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Presidential Medal of Freedom will be awarded posthumously today to Medgar Wiley Evers, the World War II veteran and civil rights leader who was assassinated on June 12, 1963, in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Miss. 

U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and U.S. Representatives Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Trent Kelly (R-Miss.), Michael Guest (R-Miss.), and Mike Ezell (R-Miss.) signed a letter last October that encouraged President Biden to honor Evers with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The medal represents the highest U.S. civilian honor awarded to individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

“This is a powerful way to honor Medgar Evers’ life and legacy.  The fact that he is receiving this award sixty years after his death is proof that he has inspired the generations that followed.  His work did not die with him in 1963.  I am grateful to the president for selecting this native son of our state for this well-deserved distinction,” Wicker said.

“Medgar Evers, who is already remembered for his pursuit of equality and justice as part of the civil rights movement, now joins a most distinguished group of Americans who are forever singled out for their life’s work.  I applaud the award of this Presidential Medal of Freedom, which I hope will renew our commitment to strive for the values for which Medgar Evers gave his life,” Hyde-Smith said.

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a testament to Medgar Evers' enduring impact on not only Mississippi but also the nation.  Over sixty years after his death, his tireless pursuit of equality for African Americans in our state continues to resonate throughout generations.  As someone deeply influenced by his legacy, I am honored to witness this recognition.  I extend my gratitude to President Biden for acknowledging Medgar Evers' pivotal role in our history and bestowing upon him this well-deserved honor,” Thompson said.

“Medgar Evers has earned and deserves to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  His devotion to civil rights will always be remembered,” Kelly said.

“The life of Medgar Wiley Evers was one of determination and conviction.  With his service on the battlefield of World War II and his work in the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi, Evers showed his fellow Mississippians the power of serving others.  His life was tragically cut short with his assassination in 1963, but he is still remembered today for the contributions he made to the Civil Rights movement. I’m thankful to see Evers selected to receive the Presidential Medal of Honor posthumously,” Guest said.

“Medgar Evers’ work to secure equal rights has made a lasting impact on not just our state, but our entire nation.  I was glad to join the full delegation in calling for him to posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and I am proud to see him receive this recognition for his legacy and his work,” Ezell said.

After returning home from World War II, Evers held several leadership roles in civil rights groups.  He recruited volunteers, led demonstrations, and organized voter-registration drives.  In recognition of his role in the Civil Rights Movement, he was posthumously awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement, and he is featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Other Mississippi natives who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom include: civil rights activist James Earl Chaney (2014); Representative G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery (2005); Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise (1970); historian Dumas Malone (1983); musical artists Leontyne Price (1964) and B.B. King (2006); writers Eudora Welty (1980) and Tennessee Williams (1980); and media mogul Oprah Winfrey (2013).

Awardees are selected by the president.  President Harry S. Truman selected the first Medal of Freedom recipient in 1946.