On day two of the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, sponsored by State Farm, Black Enterprise magazine editorial director Sonia Alleyne sat down for a special one-on-one conversation with Legacy Award winner, Myrlie Evers Williams.
The leading journalist, civil rights activist and former chairwoman of the NAACP, inspired a room full of women professionals and executives with her story of triumph over tragedy after the death of her husband, civil rights activist Medgar Evers, exemplary leadership in Corporate America and unwavering advocacy for female and civil rights.
Check out highlights from the discussion:
On meeting Medgar Evers: I was 17 years old, just out of high school. My first day on campus at Alcorn State University, we freshman girls decided to look around campus and see what’s what. We congregated together in front of the president’s house, and all of a sudden, we heard this sound of animals—we thought cows, or something— trumping up to where we were… but it was the football team [Laughs]. They were coming to look over this group of young freshman girls. I tossed my head, and that was it.
[Medgar] and I saw each other a few days after that, and he would always talk about current issues—the need to register and to vote. I had come from a family of teachers who said ‘Stay in your place and achieve where you are, but don’t go outside of those boundaries.’ Edgar and I would see each other and we’d talk about current affairs. At 17, who wants to talk about current affairs? But we did. Maybe three or four weeks into saying hello to each other, he looked at me and said, “You’re going to be the mother of my children.” [Laughs] [I thought,] for someone 17 years old? I just have to say, he was a man who knew what he wanted and went after it.
On challenging herself as the wife of a civil rights activist: I knew that to be active in trying to get people to register and vote, you were putting your life on the line. But when you are a team—married and very much in love—I would have to learn to adjust to not only to his curiosity and dedication to making things better.
There was some conflict between us because I was not always right up front and supportive and because I was fearful. And as we began to add to our family, that certainly made made it even more of a fear than a purpose.
On writing her second book, a memoir, and revealing honest truths: It is a sort-off tell-all. I am known as the ‘widow of,’ but there’s so much more to me than that. As a human being, there are strengths, there are weaknesses and there are challenges. Nothing serves one better than to realize that you are truly a human being with strengths and weaknesses, and it’s okay to say that. I like to be able to reach out, particularly to young women, that there’s much more to life than what they see… Life is for living, and it’s not for holding one’s head down and being “the widow.” There’s so much more to life. I was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who said you reach for the stars and having a husband say, ‘You can go beyond that as well.”