Civil rights pioneer donates archives to area college 

Wave Staff and Wire Reports 

POMONA — Civil rights pioneer Myrlie Evers-Williams has donated her collection of artifacts and documents to her alma mater Pomona College, the college has announced.

Evers-Williams delivered the invocation before former President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013 and is the widow of NAACP leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated by a white supremacist in 1963 in the driveway of their home in Mississippi.

Evers-Williams, 89, donated thousands of items, ranging from photos of U.S. presidents to campaign materials to congressional transcripts.

“Mrs. Evers-Williams has led in so many ways through her persistence, faith and unshakeable commitment to the cause,” Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr said in a statement announcing the donation. “The college will tend to this collection to educate and encourage others to push forward on the path she did so much to create. We are honored to be entrusted with her extraordinary legacy of brilliance, strength and — yes — love.”

The collection will be preserved for academic access, and eventually for public access, through the Claremont Colleges Library, where archivists will organize and catalogue the material that spans six decades.

The year after her husband was killed in 1963, she moved with her three children to Claremont and enrolled at Pomona College. She ran for Congress two years after graduating from Pomona College in 1968 and helped launch the National Women’s Political Caucus, taking on prominent roles in Southern California.

She continued to seek a conviction of her husband’s assassin, which finally came in 1994, more than 30 years after her husband’s death. It was the subject of the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi.”

She was elected chair of the NAACP in 1995.

In 2012, Evers-Williams was the first woman to give the invocation before a presidential inauguration before millions of people across the country and the world. She was later portrayed by Jayme Lawson in the movie “Till” in 2022.

“I’m thankful for my life, including all of the hardships,” said Evers-Williams, who turns 90 on March 17 and is retired and living in Southern California. “I have learned so much. I have learned tolerance. I have learned love, genuine love of people. I have learned how to get knocked down and get back up without blaming anyone.”

Her collection includes photos of Evers-Williams with presidents John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, buttons and pamphlets from her 1970 run for Congress, transcripts and correspondence from her 2007 testimony before Congress, and correspondence related to her preparation from the 2012 Obama inauguration.

“God has given me the ability to overlook all of the hurts, harms and dangers and look toward the future and what that could bring and what I might contribute to that future. I’ll leave it at that,” she said.

The collection contains personal items, including her Pomona College ID card, a hardhat from her time as a Los Angeles Public Works Commissioner and the dress she wore while performing piano pieces at Carnegie Hall. The collection focuses on her life after moving to California in 1964.

The Mississippi State archives house the Medgar Wiley and Myrlie Beasley Evers Papers, covering their years in that state.

She graduated from Pomona College with a degree in sociology in 1968 and credits her college experience with changing her life.

“I don’t want to get too emotional,” Evers-Williams said. “But it was Pomona College, it was the teachers here who helped me move ahead and come out of this feeling of drowning. … And it was my being here at Pomona with the instructors here and the other people who did not smother me. They gave me space. But they surrounded me by love, understanding and saying, ‘Yes, you can.’”

Pomona College will honor Evers-Williams 90th birthday with a public celebration of her accomplishments and the gift of her archives from 5 to 7 p.m. March 22 at the school’s Bridges Auditorium. The campus is located at 450 N. College Way in Claremont.