Reena Evers-Everette speaks to Operation Understanding D.C., a group of black and Jewish teens from the nation’s capital on a civil-rights tour of the South, at the site of her father’s, Medgar Evers, death at her childhood home in Jackson, Miss.
by Jennifer Shields
Little Reena Denise Evers, her mother Myrlie and her two brothers were all watching a movie in her parents’ room the night of June 12, 1963. Her father Medgar had taught her and her brothers how to distinguish between the sound of firecrackers and gunshots, should an incident ever occur. So when they heard the gunshots, they ducked and headed into the “safe,” which was their bathroom. When they came out of hiding, they found Medgar lying in the driveway of what is now 2332 Margaret Walker Alexander Drive in northwest Jackson, his blood pooling around him.
Reena Evers-Everette, now 60, stood in the living room of her old home on July 22, 2016, and told the story of her father’s assassination. She was addressing Operation Understanding D.C., a group of black and Jewish teens from the nation’s capital on a civil-rights tour of the South. Medgar Evers was a NAACP leader in Jackson until white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith shot him that night in 1963.
“Things follow you throughout your life,” Evers-Everette told the group, which included Youth Media Project students shadowing the teens from Washington.
A ‘Summer Journey’
After her husband died, Myrlie Evers moved her kids to California and later married Walter Williams. As time passed, the house started to become dilapidated. Both the City of Jackson and Tougaloo College were interested in owning the home. After considering the issue for about three years, Evers-Williams turned the ownership of the home over to Tougaloo.
The original furniture was gone by then. That changed when the crew of “The Ghost of Mississippi,” a film about her husband’s death and the conviction of de la Beckwith 31 years after the assassination, filmed at the house and left behind some of the furniture they brought in.
The students who visited the Medgar Evers house were participating in what they call the “Summer Journey” from July 5 through July 29. During the trip, the seniors loosely followed the trip the diverse Freedom Riders took around the South in the 1960s while demanding the end of Jim Crow segregation. During this summer’s trip, the students learned about the Civil Rights Movement and met with civil-rights leaders and family members such as Reena Evers. Twelve African American students and 12 Jewish students visited the South on this “Summer Journey.”
Operation Understanding D.C. is a nonprofit social-justice program with three parts. The first is the learning aspect, the second is the summer journey, and the third is bringing what they learned back to their community. The students in the program tackle issues that are occurring in the present, while also planning to use what they learned from civil-rights history to apply to positive change back home.
Another focus in their program, which has been in operation for 22 years, is taking on anti-Semitism. They talked to Jews across the South to see what it is like for them.
“It’s been live-changing experience,” rising senior Clair Ivers told the Youth Media Project.
The participants joined for a variety of reasons. Monica Joseph, a rising senior, thought it would be interesting after two friends did it and that it would look good on college applications. “Once you join, it changes your view,” Joseph said at the Evers house. She now “feels a part of history” since participating in this program.
A director and alumna of the program, Camille Harris, said that watching the students grow has had an impact on her, and that she knows they will go home and make a difference as a result. “Seeing that there is a huge group of people that want to change the world is a testament to what they hope to accomplish,” she told the YMP.