By Meaghan Latella

African-Americans should be proud of the progress they’ve made in voting rights, education and equality under the law, but the job is far from over, civil rights pioneer Myrlie Evers-Williams told an audience in Lexington Tuesday night.

“Prejudice still reigns in our country,” Evers-Williams said. “Never shut your eyes for long, because it’s always there. And there’s always a challenge.”

Evers-Williams was in Lexington as keynote speaker for Washington and Lee University’s celebration of Black History Month. She spoke at the First Baptist Church.

Evers-Williams was the first woman to chair the NAACP. She is also the widow of the slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. In 1963, Evers was shot by a sniper outside his and Evers-Williams’ home in Jackson, Miss.

She recalled the horror that she and their three children went through as they watched Evers die. She said her husband was refused treatment at the first hospital he was rushed to because of the color of his skin.

The two met when Evers-Williams was just a freshman in college. From the first day, she said, Evers inspired her to achieve great things, and to carry on his pursuit of improved race relations in the United States.

“[I] had been told [growing up], ‘You must excel, but you must still manage to stay in your place,’” Evers-Williams said. “[Medgar said] ‘There is no special place for you. It is all yours.’”

Evers-Williams went on to chair the NAACP, and to establish the Medgar Evers Institute. The institute promotes education, training and economic development.

She also co-wrote a book about Evers, “For Us, the Living.” She has also written a memoir, “Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be.” More recently, she edited a second book about Evers, “The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters and Speeches.”

Evers-Williams said she was pleased to see young people at her speech. She encouraged them to keep working for a more equal and united country. It is up to all Americans, she said, to determine the nation’s legacy.

“Who are we?” Evers-Williams asked as she surveyed the audience. “What do we represent? What do we want from this United States of America?”

Evers-Williams said Medgar Evers was passionate about exercising the right to vote. She was asked by an audience member what she thought about low voter turnout in the United States.

“For us Americans to ignore that right, I believe it’s a sin,” she said.

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