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Mississippi marks 50th anniversary of Medgar Evers' death

By Therese Apel

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers on Wednesday by focusing on his accomplishments of voter registration drives, boycotts and demonstrations rather than his death.

Evers, the first Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was shot dead in the carport of his home on June 12, 1963, at a tumultuous time for race relations in the United States.

President John F. Kennedy had sent the National Guard to the University of Alabama the day before to help two black students enroll over the objections of Alabama's segregationist governor, George Wallace. Martin Luther King's March on Washington took place two months later.

The Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute on Wednesday sponsored a "Celebration on the Green" at the Mississippi Museum of Art in his honor on Wednesday, part of a series of events commemorating his life.

Myrlie Evers, his widow, was among those attending. The museum established an exhibit on both of them that will remain on display through August 18.

Evers' home, now owned by Tougaloo College, was rededicated on Monday in a ceremony attended by more than 100 people and featured a speech by his daughter, Reena Evers-Everette, who was 8 years old when her father was killed.

Evers-Everette described how she and her brothers begged their father to get up as he lay dying in the driveway.

The Evers home, a green ranch-style house in north Jackson, has undergone renovation and is open to tours by appointment.

"He spent a great deal of time here, and he sparked students, and we like to say he found a resting place where he could receive inspiration and support," Tougaloo President Beverly Wade Hogan told Reuters on Wednesday. "That's our way to pay tribute to him and honor his memory, but also help other to advance his ideals. That's always an ongoing process."

Evers had attended a late community meeting on June 11, 1963, and was killed shortly after midnight. Myrlie Evers and their three small children were still awake when Evers got home.

White segregationist Byron De La Beckwith was tried twice on murder charges in 1964, each trial ending with all-white juries failing to reach the unanimous verdict needed to convict or acquit. The investigation was later re-opened, and Beckwith was found guilty of Evers' murder in 1994. He died in prison in 2001.

The museum celebration followed several other commemorative events in Jackson this week, such as tours of historic civil-rights sites and the screening of civil rights-themed movies.

A "Red Carpet Party" with entertainment by B.B. King and gospel singer Tamela Mann was to be held later on Wednesday, and on Thursday a statue of Evers was to be unveiled at Alcorn State University, his alma mater, in Lorman, about 90 miles away.

"The statue will celebrate his courage, leadership and dedication, and will serve as a stellar example to our students, community and the world," Alcorn State President Christopher Brown said.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Bob Burgdorfer)

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