Pomona gifted historical collection from Civil Rights legend Myrlie Evers-Williams PO ’68

A collage of photos of Merlie Evers-Williams throughout her life, with various people. The photos are pasted over a background of Evers-Williams walking on a path at Pomona.
Myrlie Evers-Williams PO ’68 has donated an archival collection of her life and work to Pomona College. (Hannah Weaver • The Student Life)

On Feb. 9, Pomona College announced that prominent civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams PO ’68 donated an archival collection of her life and work during the civil rights era to the school. 

The collection, which will eventually be housed in Honnold Mudd Library, includes thousands of artifacts that “offer tangible touchpoints of Evers-Williams’ — and the nation’s — turbulent journey toward justice through the Civil Rights Era,” according to Pomona’s website.

Sorted to be a 250-feet-long line of thousands of writings, photographs and objects narrating Evers-Williams’ story, the collection will focus on Evers-Williams’ life after moving to California following her husband’s murder.  

Evers-Williams was married to Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist who organized for equal rights for Black communities in Mississippi, until Evers was murdered in 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the Ku Klux Klan. 

De La Beckwith was tried twice by an all-white jury in Mississippi, but wasn’t convicted. After the trials, Evers-Williams moved with her three children to Claremont, California and she enrolled at Pomona in 1964. While at the college, Evers co-authored the book “For Us, the Living,” which narrated her life at Pomona.

[Pomona is] where I began to grow again,” Evers-Williams said, according to Pomona’s website. “To live again. Here on this campus, [I found] people who understood and who supported me and told me, ‘Yes you can.’”

Evers-Williams sought justice for her husband’s murder for three decades before De La Beckwith was found guilty and given a lifelong sentence a journey chronicled in many of the archives in her donation. 

“The sheer volume of the material she gathered related to the trials of her husband Medgar’s assassin show her persistence in her quest for justice,” President Gabi Starr told TSL via email. “She was meticulous. She would not give up.” 

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in sociology at Pomona, Evers-Williams ran for Congress, co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and chaired the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Board of Directors from 1995 to 1998.

Starr highlighted photos of Evers-Williams on the campaign trail running for Congress in 1970, only two years after graduating from Pomona, as one of her favorite parts of the collection.

“Though she lost at that time, she helped blaze the trail for Black women in politics today,” Starr said.

Nick Payton PO ’25 said he is excited about parsing through Evers-Williams’s donation and comparing her social justice work at Pomona to contemporary movements taking place at the school. He added that his feelings on the collection itself would depend on whether the school actively uses the archives for outreach and education or keeps the donation as an academic resource.

“I don’t want [the celebration of this donation] to be a practice to make up for the historical lack of initiative in these areas,” Payton said. “I don’t want [Pomona] to try to make up for it by just parading the fact that we have access to these archives of this person that happened to go here.”

Starr said there is still much work to do in organizing and sorting the material, but that the archives will soon be available for students and eventually “a resource of intellectual depth and inspiration for the wider public.”

“[Myrlie Evers-Williams] has seen the worst of humanity and still she pushes ahead with the expectation that change for the better is coming,” Starr said. “We all stand to learn from the difficult path she has taken over so many decades.”

Speaking about her donation to the school, Evers-Williams told Pomona that she hopes people will come to learn about this particular part of the past.

“Hopefully someone who views this will grow to be another strong leader in our country,” Evers-Williams told Pomona. “ … a leader for justice and equality.”

A public celebration of Myrlie Evers-Williams 90th birthday and her donation to the school will be held in Pomona’s Bridges Auditorium on March 22.

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