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Throughout his career, Gordon Parks photographed the most pivotal moments in the history of the civil rights and Black Power movements, with a particular focus on its leaders. As with all of his subjects he focused in equal measure on their triumphs, struggles, and humanity. Parks photographed Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington; Malcolm X traveling across the United States in 1963 as part of his work with the Nation of Islam; Stokely Carmichael giving stirring speeches at 1967 Black Power rallies; and Eldgridge Cleaver and Kathleen Cleaver reflecting on their mission in their Algiers home in 1970.

Among the many important figures Parks likely encountered during those travels were Myrlie Evers-Williams and Medgar Evers, who during that transformative era emerged as pivotal figures whose courage and determination left an indelible mark on American history. Evers began his civil rights work after being turned away from a local election as a war veteran. He then attended Alcorn State University in Mississippi, where he met Myrlie. Medgar went on to become the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi, tirelessly fighting against racial injustice until his assassination in 1963. Myrlie—who worked alongside him at the NAACP to organize and lead campaigns for voting rights, equal access, and desegregation— continued his legacy, advocating for equality and justice.

Their efforts intersected with the broader struggle led by iconic leaders like Dr. King, Jr., Malcolm X, Carmichael, and others. While Evers’s work aligned closely with King's philosophy of nonviolent resistance, his assassination symbolized the brutal resistance faced by activists. Meanwhile, Carmichael’s call for Black Power and Malcolm X’s advocacy for self-reliance and self-determination highlighted the movement's evolving strategies. Together, these figures wove a tapestry of resistance and resilience that reshaped the American social fabric.

In 1971, Parks published the book Born Black: A Personal Report on the Decade of Black Revolt 1960–1970, the first book to unite his writing and photography. It was also the first to provide a focused survey of Parks’s documentation this tumultuous and important period. In the book’s Postscript, he reflected on the civil rights leaders featured in the book, those he had met, and those he would never, reminding us—as Mylie Evers-Williams has done to this day—all that the fight for justice is not yet over:

Look back and sift the carnage: Malcolm X is dead; Martin Luther King is dead; Stokely Carmichael’s great promise has been blighted; Muhammad Ali has been dethroned; Norman Fontenelle is dead; his son Kenneth is dead; Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers live under a constant threat of death.

America is still a racist nation. It has not learned much from the turbulent decade just passed. We black people are still perplexed by the blood we must shed and the deaths we must die—as Americans. Some of us are born to be leaders, some to be followers. Some of us are born with great talents, some with none at all. But what seems to matter far more is that we are born black. That single fact would control our destiny above all others. From the evidence, our destiny is not a happy one; nor is it one that black people will, for long, accept.

Myrlie Evers-Williams was honored at The Gordon Parks Foundation's Annual Awards Dinner and Auction held on May 21, 2024.

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Myrlie Evers-Williams, photo by Jamel Shabazz

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Myrlie Evers-Williams stands as a monumental figure in the tapestry of American civil rights and social justice. Myrlie Evers-Williams embodies resilience; despite the heartbreak of her husband’s murder and the threat it posed to her and her children, she persisted. Her tireless three-decade pursuit of justice for civil rights activist Medgar Evers culminated in the conviction of his murderer, proving her extraordinary fortitude and commitment to justice. 

Evers-Williams's role in reshaping the NAACP as its first female full-time chairman in 1995 also stands as a significant chapter in her story. Her leadership was instrumental in reviving the organization's image and financial health, reinforcing its status as a premier civil rights organization in America. Her tenure at the NAACP symbolizes her ability to lead and inspire toward collective goals.

Evers-Williams's influence extended into the corporate world, where she advocated for women in non-traditional roles and made significant contributions to public policy and infrastructure. Her many writings offer a personal and historical perspective on the civil rights movement.

President Barack Obama selected Myrlie Evers-Williams's to deliver the invocation during his second Inauguration, making her the first woman and layperson to have the honor. In 2017, the Medgar and Myrlie Evers House was named a National Historic Landmark, and in 2019 became a National Monument. 

The establishment of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2014 stands as a significant acknowledgment of Evers-Williams's commitment to health equality and education. She has received honorary doctorates from numerous higher institutions of learning, including Howard University, Pomona College, Medgar Evers College, Spelman College, and two Mississippi institutions- Alcorn State University and Tougaloo College.

Founded in 1989, the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute represents the legacies of two of the strongest champions for change in the history of our nation. Under Evers-Williams's guidance, the MMEI has become a crucial institution in the United States, dedicated to strengthening communities and ensuring that all Americans can live a life free of violence, exercise their right to vote, and pursue opportunities for advancement. The Institute’s goal to inspire, educate, activate, heal, and empower the next generation of activists is a continuation of Myrlie Evers-Williams's and Medgar Evers's dedication to creating a more equitable world.

The 2023 celebration of Myrlie Evers-Williams's 90th birthday and the 60th anniversary of Medgar Evers's assassination served as a vital reminder of the enduring legacy of the Evers. In 2024, Myrlie Evers-Williams' influence continues to shape the Institute's mission, ensuring that her and Medgar Evers's vision for justice and equality remains a driving force in the ongoing fight for civil rights.


Myrlie Evers-Williams acceptance video for The Gordon Parks Foundation's Awards Dinner and Auction, May 21, 2024


Tribute to Myrlie Evers-Williams at The Gordon Parks Foundation's Annual Awards Dinner and Auction, May 21, 2024

Family of Myrlie Evers-Williams accepting her honor at The Gordon Parks Foundation Annual Awards Dinner and Auction, May 21, 2024

Gayle King introducing Myrlie Evers-Williams award at The Gordon Parks Foundation Annual Awards Dinner and Auction, May 21, 2024

Gayle King and family of Myrlie Evers-Williams accepting her honor at The Gordon Parks Foundation Annual Awards Dinner and Auction, May 21, 2024