Monday, February 21, 2011

Assassination of Medgar Evers prompted Bill Russell to help in Mississippi

Today's Seattle Times features a story on how former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week, was prompted by the assassination of Medgar Evers to do civil rights work in Mississippi:

And far away from the madness of Jackson, Boston center Bill Russell, who recently had led the Celtics to their fifth straight NBA championship and had won his third-consecutive MVP award, heard the news, felt the rising bile of pain, and the anger, and knew he had to go to Jackson, knew he had to do something, anything, to keep alive Evers' fight for freedom.

"He called me up and asked me what he could do to help," recalled Charles Evers, Medgar's older brother, speaking by telephone from Jackson last week.

"Get down here," Evers told Russell, "and we'll open one of the playgrounds and we'll have the first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi."

Evers knew he was asking a lot. He was asking Russell, one of the country's most prominent African-Americans, to risk his life, to teach basketball to kids — black and white — in the racial tinder box that was Jackson.

"It was totally segregated down here then," Evers said. "We couldn't drink out of the water fountains because we were Negroes. We couldn't use the restroom facilities because we were Negroes. We couldn't even register to vote.

"But because people like Bill were willing to come here and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us, we knew we could change all of those silly laws. Standing side-by-side he helped make all of the changes that have happened. If Bill would come back down here now, he wouldn't believe it was the same Mississippi."

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