Charles Evers, Brother of Medgar Evers and Civil Rights Icon, Dies at 97

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
July 23, 2020Updated: July 23, 2020

Charles Evers, the older brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, died at home of natural causes on Wednesday at the age of 97.

Evers was surrounded by relatives at his daughter’s home in the Jackson, Mississippi, suburb of Brandon when he died, according to Rankin County Coroner David Ruth.

His death was confirmed by his granddaughter Courtney E. Cockrell. Evers’s death marked the third death of a prominent civil rights leader within a week, following Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rep. John Lewis. The pair, who both marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died on Friday.

Born on Sept. 11, 1922, in Decatur, Mississippi, Evers served in the U.S. military during World War II, and made history in 1969 when he became the first black mayor of the southwestern Mississippi town of Fayette, since Reconstruction.

He ran several businesses in Mississippi and Illinois, and became a candidate for governor in 1971 and United States senator in 1978, although he lost those elections.

Evers took over for his brother as state field secretary for the Mississippi civil rights organization NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) after his assassination in June 1963.

Five years later, Byron De La Beckwith, a former fertilizer salesman and self-avowed white supremacist, went on trial twice in his brother’s killing, but all-white juries deadlocked and did not convict him. The case was reopened in 1994 and Beckwith was convicted of murder. That conviction was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court 3 years later.

“Before, the killer of a black man would go free. Now we know you just can’t go out and kill a black man or woman and nothing is done,” Charles Evers said at the time. “Justice finally came.”

medgar evers
Studio portrait of slain American civil rights activist Medgar Evers (1925-1963) in the early 1960s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

During his time at the NAACP, Evers organized economic boycotts against white businesses, began drives to register black voters, and challenged the racial structure of Mississippi’s Democratic Party.

A 1969 profile of Evers described the progress made by the NAACP under his leadership as “spectacular.”

“Particularly in the predominantly negro counties in the southwest corner of the state, where Evers, an insurgent Democrat, has for the first time mobilized black voting power and effectively challenged the traditionally all-white state party structure,” it said.

“Rest In Peace, Charles Evers,” tweeted Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves. “He was a civil rights leader and a true friend to me and so many Mississippians. His memory will always be cherished and honored.”

President Donald Trump remembered Evers as a “fearless leader” in a heartfelt Twitter post. Evers endorsed Trump for president in 2016.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend Charles Evers,” the president wrote. “Charles was a trail blazer in politics and a fearless leader, alongside his brother Medgar, for Civil Rights.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.