Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Sid Salter: Charles Evers Was a Walking Contradiction

Charles Evers, who died last week at the age of 97, changed Mississippi politics in ways that are profound and enduring. Yet Evers was for most of his life a walking contradiction in both his public and private lives.


Civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King – with whom Evers later worked – were perceived as spiritual leaders who sought justice on the strength of ideals. But Charles Evers was a street fighter, who demanded a piece of the American pie and was willing to do whatever he had to do to get it.

Born in Decatur in Newton County in 1922, Evers served in the U.S. Army in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. A 1950 graduate of Alcorn A&M, Evers would move to Philadelphia in Neshoba County in 1951. There, he worked in a funeral home, ran a taxi, was a bootlegger, operated a juke joint café, and an adjacent hotel.

Evers got his start in radio at WHOC-AM, the same 1,000-watt station owned and operated by pioneering Mississippi broadcaster William Howard Cole, the same courageous white WWII combat veteran who gave me my first job in radio years later. Evers played blues records on the air and used the forum to encourage black listeners to register to vote.

By 1956, Evers said segregationists put enough heat on the Cole family and on him and his family that Evers departed Philadelphia for Chicago. The Chicago years saw Evers do what he had always done – make a buck any way he could.

“I was a bathroom attendant at the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue,” Evers told me in an interview. “White men were always asking me to help them find black women, prostitutes and otherwise, so I did. From there, I also ran the numbers for the Mob and sold whiskey, just like I had in Mississippi.”

But on June 12, 1963, Charles Evers saw his life change when his younger brother Medgar Evers – the charismatic field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP – was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson home on June 12, 1963, by segregationist zealot Byron De La Beckwith.

Charles Evers said his brother’s murder ended his proclivities toward making a living through vice and set his sights on civil rights and social justice. He succeeded his brother as field secretary of the NAACP. In that role, Charles Evers would rub shoulders with President John F. Kennedy and King.

Months later in 1963, Kennedy was assassinated – and Evers found lifetime allies in the slain president’s brothers, Robert, and Edward Kennedy. “They lost a brother like I lost a brother,” Evers said.

Evers used economic boycotts to rally blacks to register to vote and to impose the will of black customers in Mississippi towns for jobs and equal treatment in the 1960s. He turned state politics on its head in 1968 when he ran for the U.S. House – winning the Democratic first primary before losing the runoff to white contender Charles Griffin.

He pivoted in 1969 to a run for mayor of Fayette as a Democrat, which he won over a white incumbent. Evers served as mayor of Fayette from 1969 to 1981, was defeated for one term, then was elected to a fourth term from 1985-89.

In 1978, the battle to choose a successor to legendary Mississippi U.S. Sen. James O. “Big Jim” Eastland saw then-Republican 4th District U.S. Rep. Thad Cochran turn back the challenge of Democrat Maurice Dantin of Columbia and Evers running as an independent. Dantin was the hand-picked candidate of the dying Eastland political machine.

A lifelong Democrat until the mid-1970s, Evers left the party over complaints that state Democrats took African American voters “for granted” without rewarding their loyalty with a sharing of power. Cochran won the general election with a 45 percent plurality of the vote, trailed by Dantin with 32 percent and Evers with 23 percent.

Evers ran for governor as an independent in 1983 against eventual winner Democrat Bill Allain and Republican Leon Bramlett.

Charles Evers brought political opportunity to black voters by helping break the stranglehold that whites had on the Democratic Party in the state – then spent the rest of his life as an avowed Republican. President Donald Trump tweeted his sympathies at Evers’ passing.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another Wikipedia gem from Sid!

Anonymous said...

Evers may have changed saddles but he never changed horses. He was as corrupt as a mayor as he was pimping and selling whiskey, but made less at it later on. He was just slicker at it later and knew the game better than his perceived opponent.

As mayor of Fayette he pissed off some people, but he curried favor with more. He understood the art of the deal and the leverage of his image. Some were afraid of him, some adored him, some disrespected or ignored him, to their eventual peril. He could pick up a phone and call anybody in the country. I don't think he used race as a 'crutch', which was a departure from the popular device.

I knew him and had business dealings with him in '75. He was charismatic, charming, cantankerous and deceptive. He always remembered you, whether he really did or not. And he had a great hand-shake and smile. I'm not putting the man down or speaking of him pejoratively or disrespectfully. He was a true success story and usually accomplished his objectives - much like Trump. To some degree, the two used the same play-book.

I didn't know Medgar, whose middle name was Wiley. But, I did know Charles, whose middle name should have been Wily.

Rest In Peace, Sir.

Anonymous said...

Met him while on Staff at the VA. Was always a great talker and I remember sitting with him at length talking about family and military. I pray he and his family is at peace.

Anonymous said...

Who cares. We canonize civil rights leaders and their relatives, while our cities look like third world war zones.

The proof is in the pudding.
-Bill Cosby (convicted rapist)

Anonymous said...

Living to age 97 is an accomplishment in itself.

Anonymous said...

10:02, I care and a lot of others do. He was a fascinating person if you ever met him.

Anonymous said...

There was nothing so contradictory about Charles Evers. If anything he was consistently a pragmatist. People who dream of pie in the sky or await some saintly hero to carry the torch will probably see Charles as a less than heroic figure. He wasn't trying to be heroic, he was trying to get the job done. That's his life, getting it done in spite of the obstacles, and you can't appraise Charles Evers without first understanding the obstacles. He
got the job done. He overcame more than most people imagine. He was quite
a man.

Going going gone said...

Sold to the highest bidder

Anonymous said...

" There was nothing so contradictory about Charles Evers. If anything he was consistently a pragmatist.
He was quite a man. "

Very well said 11:39.

We need more pragmatists in today's world.
Prayers to his family !

Mr. Evers invited my Father (a white man) on his radio show when my Dad was running for an elective office during the late 1980's.

Although apprehensive at first, Dad said that was the best interview of his campaign.

By the way . . . 8:46 said:

" Another Wikipedia gem from Sid! "

That is too funny 8:46 !
Sid's "article" did sound like a hastily written wiki entry.






I Saw Willie Morris Eat A Snake said...

One thing about being a journalist...You can always make up something you claim a dead man told you and you'll never be proven wrong. Say it when he's alive and you'll be called out. Other than Rick Cleveland, Salter is better at that than anybody alive.

I remember the time, sitting by an outdoor fire with Eudora Welty, she was sipping Hiram Walker out of a red tumbler and told me she had seen a flying saucer in 1964 while walking in Greenwood Cemetery. Who's gonna disprove that?

Anonymous said...

Is this the whole column? The title says “. . . A Walking Contradiction”, yet the article reads like a highly edited bio -- nothing more than a junior high school homework assignment. I am disappointed in the writer’s effort.

Anonymous said...

Don’t have anything negative to say about the man. I’m glad he lived as long as he did for that matter. He was an asset. I worked in Natchez and would drive from Jackson to Natchez and pass his home. As I said, I can’t say a thing wrong about the man Let him lie in peace. Can any of you say you haven’t done wrong? We are all sinners. Move on and do better as he would wish you to do. White republican, middle aged and sick of the shit going on. We don’t need any more of it. Let’s do better.

Anonymous said...

Sip'n bourbon with Miss Welty in Greenwood Cemetery would be too cool.

(Almost as cool as drinking with
Faulkner at Rowan Oak)

Nothing personal against Sid, but I much prefer Robert St. John.

Salter never includes any recipes in his columns.






Anonymous said...

Sid's articles, as well as those of both of the Cleveland boys are always eventually self-centered.

11:39 - We all think we're pragmatists, whether we've ever heard the word or not.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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