On the evening of June 12, 1963, in Jackson, Miss., Medgar Evers, then field secretary for the NAACP, was coming home to his family. Suddenly, a bullet fired by a coward white supremacist struck Evers in the back. Moments later, Evers lay dying in front of his wife, Merlie Evers, and their children.
Like 14-year-old Emmett Till before him and the Saintly trio of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner after him, Evers' death stands as a testament to the horrific brutality of Mississippi in this era. Even before his murder, Evers knew well the burden that those who preach righteousness in an evil culture must endure. Medgar and Merlie Evers lived life knowing that the life and family they created together could, at any moment, be destroyed by a lynch mob's hang noose.
Evers was not only a hero in the domestic war against racism, but a hero in the battlefield of World War II, where he valiantly fought the Nazis in Germany and France.
Ultimately, it was not a Nazi bullet that took Evers' life, but the bullet of a fellow American. Evers was one of nearly 900,000 African Americans who proudly served during World War II. Many returned home to apply the values they fought for overseas to their homeland.
However, these returning heroes encountered bitter disappointment. Some returning veterans were beaten and even murdered while wearing their uniform for daring to question Southern cultural norms just hours after returning home from combat. Others, like Evers, eventually met their end through violence. For Evers and his brothers in arms, there was no greater betrayal of their sacrifice than this rejection.
Sadly, despite his martyrdom, Evers is not a household name. Americans like not only Evers, but Fannie Lou Hamer, Joseph Lowery and Florida's own Harry T. Moore, are the truest of patriots who deserve our time and attention.
All Americans should learn about the great Medgar Evers. Just like the Minutemen of the Revolution, or the men in blue during the Civil War, Evers was a foot soldier in the battle for liberty.
Evers' death triggered the progress of the 1960s. Indeed, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the three big civil rights laws of the 1960's, surely Evers' spirit was there, and when the likes of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were murdered for their championing justice and tolerance, they followed in Evers' tragic path.
Today, Evers rests eternally at Arlington National Cemetery with his fellow heroes and patriots.
Evers, like the believer in the hymn "Be Not Afraid," stood before the power of hell, with death at his side, but always knew that his Lord was with him through it all.
He spoke courageous words, and ultimately, as the hymn states, saw the face of God.
Today, Evers lives through his moral legacy, which bears witness to a more compassion, decent and tolerant United States of America - and even a more humane Mississippi.
Luis E. Viera is a Tampa attorney.