Most Mississippians know — or should know — the late Medgar Evers as a lion of the civil rights movement, a man who sacrificed his life for the good of his people. He was an authentic American hero.
But most folks don’t know Medgar Wiley Evers was also a college football star at Alcorn State, where he was a teammate of his brother Charles. Did you?
He most certainly was.
“Medgar played halfback and I played center,” said Charles Evers, Medgar’s older brother and a civil rights hero himself. “Medgar could run that ball. He was fast. He could really run.”
Charles Evers, 96, once showed me a photo of the 1949 Alcorn A&M football team. Easily recognizable on the front row are Medgar Evers, No. 29, and brother Charles, No. 31. Both have a grim, serious glare into the camera lens, as do their teammates.
“We had a good team,” Charles Evers said. “I can’t remember our record but we won nearly all our games.”
Both Charles and Medgar Evers (three years younger) grew up in Newton County and went to Alcorn as U.S. Army veterans, having served in World War II. Charles served in the Pacific Ocean theater, Medgar in Europe, where he fought in the Battle of Normandy. Young folks now might find this difficult to imagine: Both brothers volunteered for the Army before finishing high school. After the war, both finished high school at Alcorn and then stayed at Alcorn for college.
Charles Evers played through the 1950 season. Medgar Evers was a year behind and finished in 1951. Alcorn football records of that era are spotty, but the 1950 team finished 8-2 and won the South Central Athletic Conference championship. The ’51 team finished 8-3.
“I was not a great player, not nearly as good as Medgar,” Charles Evers said. “But I was a mean player. I’d kick ’em or stomp ’em, whatever it took. I was hot-headed. Medgar was the one always trying to calm me down.”
His brother was by far the better student, as well, Charles Evers said.
“Medgar was all A’s and B’s,” he said.
“I was a C student,” Charles Evers said, chuckling. “I was too busy chasing the women.”
Both brothers stayed busy outside the football field and the classroom. They had what 99 percent of Alcorn students didn’t have at the time: a car. And they used it to make money.
“We ran a cleaning service,” Charles said. “We got a commission from a cleaners in Port Gibson. We would pick up and deliver clothes for students.”
They also ran a taxi service for students who needed rides to and from the bus station and other nearby destinations.
Said Charles, “There wasn’t much time for sleep.”
Davis Weathersby, later a coach and athletic director at Mississippi Valley State, was a teammate with Medgar Evers in 1951 when Weathersby was a freshman, Medgar a senior.
“Medgar was just a great guy, a natural leader, one of our captains,” Weathersby said. “He was a good player, a good runner, but we had a lot of really good running backs at that time.”
The best, without question, was big Jack Spinks, for whom Jack Spinks Stadium at Alcorn was named. Spinks would become the first black Mississippian to play in the NFL. Nicknamed “The Ripper,” Spinks was usually the strongest — and fastest — man on the field. Once, when asked how he became so fast, Spinks answered: “Rabbit hunting.”
“You try catching those damned things; I didn’t have a gun,” Spinks is said to have answered.
“Big Jack would just as soon run over you as look at you,” Weathersby said.
Weathersby remembers Medgar Evers as perhaps the most busy man on campus. Besides football, Medgar ran track, sang in the school choir, was on the debate team and active in campus politics.
“I believe he was already organizing people to vote when he was at Alcorn,” Weathersby said.
Medgar Evers in 1954 applied for law school at Ole Miss but was turned down because of his race. Later in 1954, he became the NAACP’s first field secretary for Mississippi. On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, father of three, was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson home.
On the 50th anniversary of his death, Medgar Evers was honored with a tribute at his Arlington National Cemetery grave. Said Myrlie Evers-Williams, his widow: “Medgar was a man who never wanted adoration, who never wanted to be in the limelight. He was a man who saw a job that needed to be done and he answered the call …”
His former Alcorn teammates would tell you that also describes Medgar Evers, the football player.
Contact syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at email@example.com.