Evers-Williams teaches leadership at UM

Published 4:54 pm Wednesday, February 23, 2011

By KATIE HURST/ Lifestyles Editor

MONTEVALLO – Myrlie Evers-Williams was inside her Mississippi home with her three children in 1963 when she heard the gunshot ring out. As her children ran to get in the bathtub, as their father had taught them, Evers-Williams rushed to the front door to find her husband, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, lying at the door step with a bullet shot through his back.

Since that moment, Evers-Williams said she was often known simply as “the widow of Medgar Evers.”

On Feb. 22, Evers-Williams visited the University of Montevallo and spoke to a crowd in Palmer Auditorium on how her husband’s death spurred her to overcome her anger, discover her own self-worth and became a reluctant leader for a cause she believed in.

Evers-Williams was the keynote speaker for the university’s black history month celebration. Her speech was titled “Forging the Dream: Leadership by Action and not by Design” and focused on different styles of leadership. Evers-Williams urged the audience “not to be a leader of name or note, but because you believe in what is right and you believe in justice.”

She said became a reluctant leader as she fought for justice after her husband’s murder. After several trials, it was more than 30 years before Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of the crime.

“When you make a promise, you keep a promise,” she said. “I promised (Medgar) if something were to happen to him, like we knew it would, I would do all I could to see justice prevail. It was a promise I made and a promise I kept. If you believe in something you keep preserving until it happens otherwise you have nothing else within you.”

Evers-Williams moved beyond being the “widow of”, she said, and garnered her own national spotlight when she became the first woman elected chairman of the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1995. She later ran for U.S. Congress in 1970, though she did not win her election.

“I’m not just a ‘widow of’, but I’m a person in my own way,” she said. “The important thing is to know within your own mind and heart who you are, have respect for that person and work in a way that others will too.”

Evers-Williams encouraged students to take on leadership roles, not for the sake of being leaders, but to change a cause they believe in.

“This world needs new leadership, better leadership,” she said. “Not those who demand the attention of the cameras all the time. You don’t have to have the cameras. You don’t have to have the mics to be leaders. You have to care and be informed about the issues to make your choices. We need people who care deeply. Each and every one of you can be a leader.”