Phil Bryant, Bennie Thompson feud over credit for Evers home monument status

Published 6:29 pm Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mississippi’s white Republican governor and the state’s only black Democratic congressman are feuding over who should get credit for the home of a slain civil rights leader becoming a national monument.

President Donald Trump signed a bill Wednesday creating five new national monuments, including the Medgar and Myrlie Evers home in Jackson. Medgar Evers was the Mississippi NAACP field secretary when he was assassinated outside the home in June 1963 while his wife, Myrlie, and their three children were inside.

On Twitter, Gov. Phil Bryant praised Trump and Mississippi’s two Republican U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, for the monument designation.

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U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, tweeted back: “Give adequate credit. I’ve worked on this for 16 years.”

Bryant responded in a statement to Jackson television station WJTV that Thompson was seeking personal acclaim and was shattering what should be a time of celebration over the national monument designation.

“His anger and hatred are the very characteristics that separated our people in the civil rights era,” Bryant said. “He has become a tragic figure who has squandered this opportunity to help bring our state together.”

Democrats scolded the governor for not acknowledging Thompson’s work on the Evers home designation.

“Why are you unable to thank the one member of our delegation who has spent years on this project who happens to be a Democrat? Your overt partisanship embarrasses our state,” Mississippi House Democratic leader David Baria tweeted in response to Bryant.

Mike Espy, a former congressman and former U.S. agriculture secretary who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, wrote on Twitter: “Everyone who has followed this issue over the years KNOWS that @BennieGThompson was instrumental.”

Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to the Senate nearly a year ago to fill a vacancy when longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran resigned amid health concerns.

Cochran was chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee and had worked on the getting the Evers home designated a national monument. Cochran also credited Thompson with working on the effort.

Medgar Evers was a World War II veteran who fought in Europe and returned to his native Mississippi, where he again faced harsh segregation.

As the first field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP beginning in 1954, he led voter registration drives and boycotts to push for racial equality. He also investigated lynchings, beatings and other violence that black residents suffered at the hands of white segregationists.

Myrlie Evers was national chairwoman of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998. After living in Mississippi in recent years, she has moved back to California, where she raised her three children after their father’s death.

The federal government will take over the ranch-style home from Tougaloo College, which supports the change, bringing money for preservation. The Evers family donated the home to historically black Tougaloo in 1993, and it is open by appointment for tours.

The three-bedroom home stood vacant for years after the family moved away in the 1960s, and it was restored in the mid-1990s. It is now filled with midcentury furniture, and one of the bedrooms has a display about the family’s history. A bullet hole is visible in a kitchen wall.

The National Park Service named the home a national historic landmark in 2016.