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James Charles Evers
James Charles Evers (born September 11, 1922) is an American civil rights activist. Evers was known for his role in the American Civil Rights Movement along with his younger brother Medgar Evers. He was made the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) State Voter Registration Chairman in 1954. After his brother's assassination in 1963, Evers took over his position as field director of the NAACP in Mississippi. As field director, Evers organized and led many demonstrations for the rights of African Americans.
In 1969, Evers was named “Man of the Year” by the NAACP. In 1969, Evers was elected in Fayette, Mississippi as the first African-American mayor in the state in the post-Reconstruction era, following passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which enforced constitutional rights for citizens. He unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1971 and the United States Senate in 1978, both times as an Independent candidate. In 1989, Evers was defeated for re-election after serving nearly twenty years as mayor.
Evers was born in Decatur in Newton County in east central Mississippi, Evers was reared by devoutly Christian parents, Jesse (Wright) and James Evers. He had a younger brother Medgar, with whom he was close. They attended segregated public schools, which were typically underfunded in Mississippi following the exclusion of African Americans from the political system by disenfranchisement after 1890. Evers graduated from Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi.
During World War II, Charles and Medgar Evers both served in the United States Army. Charles fell in love with a Filipino woman while stationed overseas. He could not marry her and bring her home to his native Mississippi because the state prohibited interracial marriages. Before and after the war, Evers participated in bootlegging operations, prostitution, and numbers in Mississippi and Chicago. He revealed this part of his past in 1971 prior to his campaign for governor. He said he was not proud of it, but was proud that he had changed his life and left such crime activities far behind.
In Mississippi about 1951, brothers Charles and Medgar Evers grew interested in African freedom movements. They were interested in Jomo Kenyatta and the rise of the Kikuyu tribal resistance to colonialism in Kenya, known as the "Mau-Mau" Rebellion as it moved to open violence. Along with his brother, Charles became active in the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a civil rights organization that promoted self-help and business ownership. Between 1952 and 1955, Evers often spoke at the RCNL's annual conferences in Mound Bayou, a town founded by freedmen, on such issues as voting rights.
Around 1956, Evers' entrepreneurial gifts and his civil rights activism landed him in trouble in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He left town and moved to Chicago, Illinois. There, he fell into a life of hustling, running numbers for organized crime, and managing prostitutes. His brother Medgar continued to be involved in civil rights, becoming field secretary and head of the NAACP in Mississippi.
On June 12, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, member of a KKK chapter, fatally shot Evers' brother, Medgar, in Mississippi as he arrived home from work. Evers died at the hospital in Jackson. Evers was working in Chicago at the time of his brother's death. He shocked and deeply upset by his brother's assassination. Over the opposition of more establishment figures in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) such as Roy Wilkins, Evers took over his brother's post as head of the NAACP in Mississippi.
In 1969, following passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized federal enforcement of the right to vote, Evers was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi. He was the first African-American mayor elected in his state since Reconstruction. In a rural area dominated by cotton plantations, Fayette had a majority of black residents. Its minority white community was known to be hostile toward blacks.
Evers' election as mayor had great symbolic significance statewide and attracted national attention. The NAACP named Evers the 1969 Man of the Year. Author John Updike mentioned Evers in his popular novel Rabbit Redux (1971). Evers popularized the slogan, "Hands that picked cotton can now pick the mayor."
Evers served many terms as mayor of Fayette. Admired by some, he alienated others with his inflexible stands on various issues. Evers did not like to share or delegate power. Evers lost the Democratic primary for mayor in 1981 to Kennie Middleton. Four years later, Evers defeated Middleton in the primaries and won back the office of mayor. In 1989, Evers lost the nomination once again to political rival Kennie Middleton. In his response to the defeat, Evers accepted his defeating citing that he was tired and that: "Twenty years is enough. I'm tired of being out front. Let someone else be out front."
Evers endorsed Ronald Reagan for President of the United States during the 1980 United States presidential election. Evers later attracted controversy for his support of judicial nominee Charles W. Pickering, a Republican, who was nominated by President George H. W. Bush for a seat on the US Court of Appeals. Evers criticized the NAACP and other organizations for opposing Pickering, as he said the candidate had a record of supporting the civil rights movement in Mississippi.
Evers has befriended a range of people from sharecroppers to presidents. He was an informal adviser to politicians as diverse as Lyndon B. Johnson, George C. Wallace, Ronald W. Reagan and Robert F. Kennedy. On the other hand, Evers has severely criticized such national leaders as Roy Wilkins, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and Louis Farrakhan over various issues.
In recent years, Evers has been openly a member of the Republican and has supported the party in most cases. In 2009, Evers showed his support of Barack Obama becoming the first African-American as President of the United States.
In 1971 Evers ran in the gubernatorial general election but was defeated by Democrat William "Bill" Waller, 601,222 (77 percent) to 172,762 (22.1 percent). Waller had prosecuted the murder case of suspect Byron De La Beckwith. When Waller gave a victory speech on election night, Evers drove across town to a local TV station to congratulate him. A reporter later wrote that
"Waller's aides learned Evers was in the building and tried to hustle the governor-elect out of the studio as soon as the interview ended. They were not quite quick enough. Surrounded by photographers, reporters, and television crews, Evers approached Waller's car just as it was about to pull out. Waller and his wife were in the back seat. 'I just wanted to congratulate you,' said Evers. 'Whaddya say, Charlie?' boomed Waller. His wife leaned across with a stiff smile and shook the loser's hand." During the campaign Evers told reporters that his main purpose in running was to encourage registration of black voters.
In 1978, Evers ran as an Independent for the US Senate seat vacated by Democrat James O. Eastland. He finished in third place behind his opponents, Democrat Maurice Dantin and Republican Thad Cochran. He received 24 percent of the vote, likely siphoning off African-American votes that would have otherwise gone to Dantin. Cochran won the election with a plurality of 45 percent of the vote. With the shift in white voters moving into the Republican Party in the state (and the rest of the South), Cochran was continuously re-elected to his Senate seat. After his failed senate race, Evers briefly switched political parties and became a Republican.
In 1983, Evers ran as an Independent for governor of Mississippi but lost to the Democrat Bill Allain. Republican Leon Bramlett of Clarksdale, also known as a college All-American football player, finished second with 39 percent of the vote.
Evers was briefly married to Christine Evers until their marriage ended in annulment. In 1951, Evers married Nannie Laurie. They moved to Philadelphia, Mississippi. The couple filed for divorce in June 1974. Evers has three daughters; Charlene, Pat and Carolyn. He now lives in Jackson, Mississippi. He is currently the station manager of radio station WMPR 90.1 FM in Jackson, Mississippi.