Texarkana, U.S.A. – Monday, October 28, 2013
By: Marcus Thompson
Medgar Evers’ widow speaks at annual NAACP awards banquet
The Greater Texarkana, Texas, Branch of the NAACP held its 50th annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet Saturday, drawing about 450 attendees.
Held at Texarkana, Texas, Convention Center, the banquet featured keynote speaker Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
Evers-Williams, who worked for more than three decades to seek justice for her husband’s murder, is a former National Chairwoman of the NAACP, a journalist and author of several books on topics related to the civil rights movement and her husband’s legacy. In January, she delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“I grew up in the Civil Rights Era, and her speech brought back a lot of memories. It really hit home with me,” said Larry Andrews, one of the first African-American students to be integrated to his high school.
The banquet awarded nine individuals in the fields of business, education, politics, religion, and journalism.
“I’m excited to see these people receive recognition in their various fields, they provide excellent leadership for our community,” said attendee Bettye Washington.
Texarkana, Ark., Mayor Wayne Smith and Texarkana, Texas, Mayor Bob Bruggeman attended the event, reading a joint proclamation dedicating Oct. 26, 2013 officially Myrlie Evers-Williams Day across both sides of the twin cities.
Before her speech, Evers-Williams was introduced by Jerry “Boo” Mitchell, a Texas High School graduate and investigative reporter for the Clarion-Ledger newpaper in Jackson, Miss. Mitchell has earned numerous awards and honors, including a $500,000 “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, for his “cold case” investigations into civil rights-era murders. Thanks to Mitchell’s work, at least four Ku Klux Klansmen have been put behind bars, including Byron De La Beckwith Jr., who was convicted in 1994 for the June 12, 1963, murder of Medgar Evers.
Mitchell also received the President’s Award, the most prestigious award the Texarkana branch presents each year.
“I feel honored and humbled to be a part of this. Having Mrs. Evers-Williams here is a huge honor for Texarkana, and it means a lot for the city. The area has had struggles in the past and I’m happy to see things moving forward,” Mitchell said.
Evers-Williams gave a rousing speech, encouraging attendees to not be complacent, and to keep moving forward.
“The country as it stands today is at a very challenging time. There are many of us who have paid a tremendous price for the freedoms we enjoy today, but we must continue to push forward,” Evers-Williams said. “I might be 80 years old, but I’m not going to give up yet. I may use a walking stick, but I still see that line that says ‘Victory,’ and even if I have to crawl to cross it, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
After Evers-Williams’ speech, awards were given to leaders working in or from the area. Among the winners were:
- Ms. Catherine Lyles, awarded the John J. Jones Sr. Community Service award
- Dr. Ceretha Brown-Levingston, awarded the A. E. Alton/Mott Mosley Educational Award
- Mrs. Geanenita Darlington-Kelley, awarded the Dr. G.W. Thompson Professional Award
- Mrs. Dee Dee Woods and Mr. Billy Bland, awarded the Dr. Calvin Rolark Business and Economic Award
- Mrs. Jo Ann Rice, awarded the Special Achievement Award
- Pastor R.E. Ruffin, awarded the Religious Affairs Award
- Mr. Yul Edwards, awarded the Torchbearer Award
- Mr. Jerry Mitchell, awarded the President’s Award
Once the awards were given, closing remarks were given by Greater Texarkana Branch President Benjamin Dennis. Dennis thanked the audience for their attendance, encouraging everyone to not forget the struggles of the past, and the need to carry on.
As she left the banquet hall, Evers-Williams offered a final statement of encouragement. “We must not be relegated to the back of the bus again. Stand your ground for what you believe. Stand your ground for justice, freedom, and equality.