It’s kind of incredible that today will mark the first time that a woman delivers a prayer at a presidential inauguration. But Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers and a civil rights organizer in her own right, is the perfect woman for the job, especially for an inauguration coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.
Raised in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Evers-Williams met Medgar Evers, an upperclassman, Army veteran, and football player on her first day of college at Alcorn A&M, and they married the following year. Medgar was already a member of the NAACP and helped raise Myrlie’s consciousness and eschew white standards of beauty:
“He’s the one who told me to stop biting my bottom lip and to be proud of my large lips…. It was he who told me to stop straightening my hair and be proud of my kinky hair. It was Medgar who told me to stop using bleach on my face to be lighter and to be proud of my Blackness.”
In 1954, Medgar became the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP and Myrlie worked as his secretary. As a team they organized voter registration drives and civil rights demonstrations and fought to desegregate schools. They both knew the dangers they faced for their work. Mrylie and Medgar spoke in code over the phone and trained their children to dive to the ground if they heard strange noises (in case there were snipers).