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January 26, 1998

Paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

Myrlie Evers-Williams

NAACP chair Myrlie Evers-Williams will deliver the MLK convocation keynote speech on January 29

By Francine Tyler

Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams, whose activist husband was gunned down by a white supremacist in the family's driveway 35 years ago, will be the featured speaker at the 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation on Thursday, January 29.

The theme of this year's keynote speech is "The Power of Opportunity." Held on the UC Santa Cruz campus in past years, the event will take place at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church Street, Santa Cruz. It begins at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the general public. No tickets are required.

The annual convocation honors Dr. King's legacy with music, welcoming speeches, and a keynote address by a prominent figure. Evers-Williams is chair of the national board of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Since taking the nonsalaried post in 1995, Evers-Williams has helped bring money and new members to the civil rights organization.

The convocation takes place this year as the local chapter of the NAACP begins celebrating 50 years of service in Santa Cruz. In addition to UCSC, the local NAACP and the city of Santa Cruz are cosponsoring the event.

A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Evers-Williams first joined the NAACP in the 1950s with her husband, Medgar Evers. While Evers traveled Mississippi as the state's first NAACP field secretary, Evers-Williams ran the office, researched his speeches, and raised their three young children. The family lived under constant threats and harassment.

The threats took real shape in 1963, when a white supremacist shot Evers, who died in front of his wife and children. More than 30 years and three trials later, Evers-Williams witnessed the conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the murder. Her long pursuit of justice was the subject of the 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi.

In December, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Beckwith's conviction, saying that he had received a fair trial despite the 31 years that elapsed between the crime and the verdict.

"It's like taking a deep breath and letting the air out of your lungs very slowly and saying 'it's over' and really meaning it," Evers-Williams told the Associated Press after the verdict. "It should set Mississippians free, as my family, Medgar's family, is now free--finally."

After Evers's death, Evers-Williams forged a new life. Moving to California, she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Pomona College, then directed planning and development for the Claremont College system, which includes Pomona. She also launched an unsuccessful bid for Congress and worked for the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), serving as national director for community affairs and, later, as director of consumer affairs. In 1987, she became the first black woman to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works.

Evers-Williams's second husband, retired longshoreman Walter Williams, died in 1995.

Now retired from the Los Angeles board, Evers-Williams continues to lecture extensively before civil rights groups, women's organizations, social groups, and university audiences.

At the January 29 convocation, other speakers will include Paula Livers-Powell of the local chapter of the NAACP and director of UCSC's African American Student Life Resource & Cultural Center, Associate Professor Margo Hendricks, and Chancellor Greenwood.

Students Ebony Lewis and Nandi Ellis will sing a duet at the event, and Sam Smith, also a student, will read original poetry. Also performing will be the Greater Victory Temple Children's Choir of Seaside.

For more information, access the convocation Web site at http://events.ucsc.edu/mlk98, send e-mail to mawolles@cats.ucsc.edu, or call the University Events Office at (408) 459-3861.

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