The Killing of Medgar Evers

In the spring of 1963, Medgar Evers, a NAACP organizer in Jackson, Mississippi, requested a meeting with the racist mayor of the town to address racial inequality issues. When the mayor refused to have a meeting, Evers and other activists organized sit-ins at the local Woolworth lunch counters. The sit-ins led to counter-protests and arrests. Many blacks were jailed. Evers organized efforts, including a benefit concert by well-known female black singer, Lena Horne, to bail the arrested people out of jail.

In June, 1963, President Kennedy, whose administration had been less than energized on the civil rights front, gave an assertive nationally televised speech on civil rights issues. On the night of the President’s speech, Evers was shot in the back and killed in the driveway of his home. (van Rijn, Kennedy, pp. 98-99.) The accused killer, a white supremacist named Byron De La Beckwith, stood trial twice in the 1960s. Both cases ended in mistrials because the all-white juries could not reach a verdict. De La Beckwith was convicted in a third trial in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison.

Bob Dylan wrote “Only a Pawn in their Game” ( regarding the assassination of Medgar Evers. Dylan performed the song at a rally in Greenwood, Mississippi in July 1963 and at the March on Washington, August, 1963. (Denselow, When the Music is Over: The Story of Political Pop, pp. 38-39.) “The basic concept of the song is that the murderer of [Evers] was simply a representative of a hopelessly unjust system that convinces poor white people that they are superior to African-Americans.” (Weissman, Talkin ‘Bout a Revolution, p. 321.)

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
’Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ’neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game

Phil Ochs also wrote a song about the Medgar Evers murder. His song is variously known as “The Ballad of Medgar Evers,and “Too Many Martyrs.(

In the state of Mississippi many years ago
A boy of 14 years got a taste of southern law
He saw his friend a hanging and his color was his crime
And the blood upon his jacket left a brand upon his mind

Too many martyrs and too many dead
Too many lies too many empty words were said
Too many times for too many angry men
Oh let it never be again

His name was Medgar Evers and he walked his road alone
Like Emmett Till and thousands more whose names we’ll never know
They tried to burn his home and they beat him to the ground
But deep inside they both knew what it took to bring him down


The killer waited by his home hidden by the night
As Evers stepped out from his car into the rifle sight
He slowly squeezed the trigger, the bullet left his side
It struck the heart of every man when Evers fell and died.


And they laid him in his grave while the bugle sounded clear
Laid him in his grave when the victory was near
While we waited for the future for freedom through the land
The country gained a killer and the country lost a man