”So y’all goin’ to write a story on Evers?” asked the lady. p“My, my, that nigra sure is comin’ up in the world.” Her smile was sweet, but it didn’t reach the eyes. Her husband, a stout white-haired man in a rumpled seersucker suit with an American-flag pin on the lapel, frowned. “We never had any trouble with our niggers before all this.” The conversation could have been overheard anywhere in white Mississippi, but the fact that it took place in Fayette gave it a special relevance. For the target of their criticism, Charles Evers, is not only a black man but their own mayor, the political leader of a town in which black voters outnumber whites more than two to one, and for the first time since Reconstruction, a white minority was confronting dominant black political power.
Evers, 49, has been the undisputed leader of the civil rights movement in Mississippi since the sniper slaying of his younger brother, Medgar, on July 12, 1963. The day before Medgar’s interment at Arlington National Cemetery, Charles assumed his mantle as NAACP state field secretary and quickly launched a major voter-registration drive and a series of successful boycotts of segregated business establishments throughout the state. In 1964, he and NAACP state chairman Aaron Henry led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in its unsuccessful attempt to unseat the all-white delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Evers was a nuisance to the Democrats in those days, but within four years he had made his political mark on both the state and national scene, and in 1968, the Mississippi Challenge succeeded when Evers’s biracial delegation of loyalist Democrats was seated at the Chicago convention and Evers himself appointed to the 12-man Democratic National Executive Committee, the first black to sit on the party’s highest policymaking body.
But the main thrust of his organizational activity—until now— has been the registration of black voters, facilitated by the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and under his leadership, over 200,000 blacks were registered in Mississippi between 1963 and 1970. By 1967, black voters outnumbered whites in six rural counties, and in one of these, Jefferson County, Evers established his personal power base. After an unsuccessful but narrowly contested Congressional race, he announced his candidacy for mayor of Fayette, a racially mixed community of 1,754 and the county seat. His opponent, Mayor R.J. (Turnip Green) Allen—a nickname won by trading vegetables for black votes—had held the office for 18 years. In a campaign reminiscent of the Kennedys’—Evers was a close friend of Robert Kennedy, and Ethel and Ted pledged their support—Evers defeated the septuagenarian incumbent by 128 votes.
Though the outcome sent deep waves of apprehension and resentment through the state, Evers’ inauguration was attended by such prominent liberals as Ramsey Clark, Paul O’Dwyer, Theodore Sorensen, Whitney Young, Julian Bond and Shirley MacLaine, and messages of congratulation were sent by President Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie, Eugene McCarthy and many others. But such distinguished acclaim was less meaningful to black Mississippians than the sudden reality of power—and the possibility of extending that power to other communities and eventually to the statehouse itself.
Within a day of the election, a number of whites had shuttered their houses and fled the city, including a restaurant owner who had endeared himself to black customers by posting a sign reading: “Every cent spent by a nigger to be donated to the Ku Klux Klan.” Nor did the defeated city administration go out of its way to smooth the transition to the new regime. The majority of white city employees resigned after the election, and the outgoing mayor and his aldermen devoted their last days in office to a spending spree calculated to bankrupt the community. When Evers took office, there weren't enough funds in the town coffers even to maintain municipal services, and he was forced to appeal for public donations on a CBS news feature about Fayette. The response was overwhelming: Within eight days $100,000 had poured in, most of which has been used to open a public-health center. With the help of political allies in Washington and Eastern financial circles, Evers has brought new industry into a town where 500 of the 1,000 black residents were unemployed, and federal grants have established vocational centers to train unskilled black—and white—youths.
Fayette is still a depressed community, and its economy can hardly be said to be thriving, but dramatic gains have been made and continue to be made. The work force has been substantially increased and, for the first time in years, the welfare rolls have been reduced. Such accomplishments have won Evers support even among some pillars of the white Mississippi business establishment. Tom B. Scott, president of Jackson's First Federal Savings and Loan Association, considers Evers a valuable influence for progress: Because of his connections, he could make Fayette a show place. I think he is going to be a great help to Fayette and Mississippi. Syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak have written: Charles Evers is attempting a political balancing act designed to divide power between the Negro numerical majority and the economically dominant white minority…. If he can manage it without driving out the whites, it could be the beginning of biracial black-white power in the Deep South.
Evers has moved on to the next stage of his quest for such power. Last April, he was nominated for governor by the Mississippi Loyalist Democrats, the state's nationally recognized Democratic Party, becoming the first black man ever to run for governor of Mississippi. His campaign has aroused new fears and hatred among some Mississippi whites and fresh fervor among his dedicated black supporters—as well as a surprising but still tentative ripple of support among the state's hitherto silent white moderates. As Evers tours the state campaigning before black and white audiences—the positive reception at a number of white meetings has astonished reporters—he has triggered new controversy about both his objectives and his character, which was called into question early this year not by a political rival but by Evers himself. In an extraordinary autobiography, he candidly—and perhaps foolhardily—confessed his affairs with white and black women and his previous careers as an underworld policy runner, bootlegger and head of a prostitution ring.
To his supporters, he is still the p“Moses of Mississippi,” about to turn his state into the promised land; but to his enemies, he is a money- and power-hungry demagogue prepared to risk a race war to further his own ambitions. To find out which—if either—is the real Evers, Playboy sent journalist Eric Norden to Fayette to interview its mayor at the height of his gubernatorial campaign. Norden reports:
”Two hours out of Jackson, we cut west in our rented car off U.S. 20 along a potholed blacktop road, past pines and sweet gums and copses of oak and dogwood, the shacks growing shabbier as we near Delta country, the buzzards getting bolder, crouched over dead dogs on the roadside and flapping up as we pass. Off the highway the fields are empty; you can go for miles without seeing another car, and Northern paranoia conjures up images of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman ringed by flashlights, waiting for the first bite of the chain. Finally, a Mississippi highway-patrol car passes, its radio antenna whipping the leaves off overhanging trees, the pink faces of two jowly cops blurring past, and I look at my black driver, but he's watching his speedometer. A few minutes later, I see with relief a sign reading: ‘Welcome to Fayette, a community of progress and brotherhood, Charles Evers, Mayor,’ and we're safe inside the city limits.
”Fayette is an old town, and the white frame houses with their little patches of garden and tree-shaded lawns carry antebellum echoes. The air shimmers with the summer heat—105 degrees in the shade—and people move slowly, to conserve energy. An ancient black woman, bent and shawled, holds a parasol above her head with both gnarled hands, and young men lounge in doorways, towels wrapped around their necks, like sparring partners between bouts. It's obviously a poor town, but everything is clean and neat, and even the most humble homes and stores display none of the earmarks of despair that mar the urban ghettos. It's Saturday, shopping day, and the streets are crowded, an occasional white face bobbing in the black sea. There are few Afros, no dashikis, and as I get out of the car and approach city hall, a passer-by nods pleasantly to me.
”The atmosphere is relaxed, casual, but there's an undercurrent of tension that I feel even in the anteroom to the mayor's office as busy black and white aides bustle by, making last-minute preparations for a forthcoming festival marking the second anniversary of the Evers administration. Richard Woodard, one of the mayor's security guards, on loan to Fayette from the New York Police Department, tells me that harassment of Evers's supporters is growing: The highway patrol has begun to systematically arrest black drivers with Evers stickers on their cars. Death threats, he says, have also been increasing.
”And then I'm in the mayor's office, decorated with portraits of Medgar, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and Evers himself is waving me to a chair. He's a big man, over six feet, pushing 250 pounds, but he moves like an athlete, slow and controlled, with a lazy grace. His face is coarsely powerful, with a fighter's broken nose, slightly flattened, and a mobile mouth that breaks slowly into a broad smile of greeting. It's a warm smile, but his eyes are sad—and guarded. At first I thought it might be because I was white, but after some days with him. I noticed this attitude toward everyone, even those closest to him; no matter how wide the smile, there is a detached, noncommittal reserve. He obviously likes people, but he doesn't seem to fully trust any of them, black or white.
”Over the next 10 days, I traveled everywhere with Evers on his campaign tours, skimming across treetops in a three-seater Piper Cherokee, riding along dusty roads in air-conditioned cars and battered pickup trucks, seated in his restaurant at the Evers Motel or in his apartment above the Medgar Evers Shopping Center, a veritable fortress with no windows and a small arsenal of rifles, revolvers and semiautomatic weapons. I came to like him and to respect him, but not to really know him. I think very few people do.
”He has a passion for life, but it derives from an intimacy with death—that of his brother, of so many others who have been close to him; and the possibility of his own. He tries to live every minute as if it were his last—and it very well could be. There is said to be a $15,000 contract on his life, and the Klan has vowed he won't live till election day, much less have a chance at the statehouse. I began the interview on that grim note.”
PLAYBOY: The bodyguards who surround you, and the extensive security precautions on all your campaign trips, indicate that you take very seriously the death threats you’ve received since you announced your candidacy. Do you believe your life is in danger?
EVERS: In Mississippi, every black man’s life is in danger. We go cheap down here; you learn to drink that in with your momma’s milk. My life ain’t worth a plugged nickel; I know that. I know they can gun me down in the back any time, jus’ like they did Medgar. But that’s not gonna stop me. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m seen so brave or nothin’ like that, but I seen so much death round me it’s jus’ stopped scarin’ me.
The bodyguards don’t really make no difference anyway; if they really want to get you, they’ll get you. They might be able to scare off some nut with a pistol, but not no professional killer. Look how they got Bobby; he was a few feet away, with all his bodyguards around, and it still didn’t do no good. I know that by sayin’ what I say and tellin’ white folks down here that niggers are good as they are, I’ve probably signed my death warrant. But I’ve always believed, and Medgar felt the same way, that what counts isn’t how many years you live or the way you die but what you do while you’re here. And you can’t make no contribution if you live in fear.
PLAYBOY: Have the death threats increased since you entered the gubernatorial race?
EVERS: Oh, yeah, no doubt about it. And funny thing is, a lot of the most vicious threats come from out of state. from places like Florida and New Jersey. Now, what I ever do to rile folks in New Jersey? But there it is. I always used to get some threats when I was field secretary for the NAACP back in the Sixties; some redneck would warn me, Nigger, we gon’ git you, we gon’ git you like we got your goddamned brother. But they wasn’t too frequent. Then when I ran for Congress in ’68 against old Charley Griffin and came close enough to scare ’em—I won the primary, and they had to round up every cracker vote in the district to beat me in November—the threats speeded up and they made a couple of attempts to kill me. Once a car circled my home in Jackson and then shot the house up, but nobody was hit.
Then when I got elected mayor of Fayette, the threats started pourin’ in. Kluxers would call me on my unlisted number and tell me there was gonna be one smartass nigger less round soon, and go into everythin’ they’d do before they finished me off. You know, some folks can go to bed with a good book; me, I get these characters callin’ all time of the day and night. And it’s got even worse since I announced my candidacy for governor. But you know, those threats don’t really mean too much, leastwise as long as they stay on the phone or stick to those anonymous letters. When you gotta watch out is when they stop talkin’ and start shootin’.
PLAYBOY: Have there been any serious attempts on your life recently?
EVERS: Well, the really serious ones are the ones you don’t know about till they squeeze the trigger. But I guess the best organized effort was the one back in late 1969, right after I’d been elected mayor. We were really pretty lucky on that one; we were tipped off jus’ in time. I was sittin’ in my office one mornin’ when the phone rang, and a white woman was on the other end; you get pretty good distinguishin’ ’tween black and white voices down here, though I guess to an outsider there don’t seem that much difference. Anyhow, this white lady, she says, Charles—always the first name for niggers, remember—Charles, she says, they are going to kill you today. I don’t always agree with you, but we can’t afford to have you killed. Now, like I told you, I was gettin’ these threats all the time, and I thought this one was jus’ a li’l more polite, a li’l more subtle than most, so I jus’ said, Go to hell! and hung up. And forgot about it, like you gotta learn to do.
Then about six o’clock, the phone rings again, and this time it’s a man’s voice—a white man—and he tells me the same thing as the woman. I realize now it was probably her husband and they’d got wind of somethin’. But I jus’ said. I got things to do, and hung up. But this time I took pause a bit, ’cause there was somethin’ different about these calls. I began to get the feelin’ they wasn’t jivin’. Then at seven-fifteen, just as I’m about to go out for a bite to eat, the phone rings again and this time it’s a black voice. I figured out later it was probably the white couple’s maid; they’d brought her in on it when I wouldn’t listen to ’em. And she says, Mr. Evers, I’m a friend of yours, now don’t hang up on me. And I says, Look, honey, what is it? So she says, There’s three men gon’ kill you. I sorta snort and say, Aw, c’mon, now, but she’s real intense. She says, They’re drivin’ a 1968 Mustang, they’ve got five guns in the car. They been on the road and bought some clothes for a quick change, and one of ’em is in Natchez in a motel with a getaway car.
Well, when they get down to things like that, you gotta listen, ’cause this was jus’ a year and a half after they got Martin in Memphis. So I said, Thank you very much, and as I hung up, I remembered seein’ a ’68 Mustang cruisin’ round town earlier that day. So I packed my gun and left the office, and the minute I hit the sidewalk, there’s this same Mustang parked across the street. So I call over our police chief, who’s waitin’ outside for me, and he and one of his men, they pull out their guns and surround the car and order the driver out. There was only one guy, a white man, but there was a small arsenal inside the car—a carbine, three shotguns and a .38-caliber pistol. So we asked him what he was doin’ with all those guns and he just snarled right back, I’m a Mississippi white man—I won’t answer that. Well, that sorta answer ain’t good enough in Fayette anymore, so we slapped him in jail under $10,000 bond on charges of carryin’ concealed weapons and held him for a hearin’. I disqualified myself as judge to show that justice in Fayette didn’t have no skin color or prejudice.
We found out he was from Tupelo. He turned out to be head of the Knights of the Green Forest, a splinter group of the Klan that had broken off from the Mississippi Klan ’cause it was too moderate—if you can believe that. And the next mornin’ Federal agents got in on the case and they picked up his two collaborators. They caught one of ’em holed up in a motel room in Natchez, jus’ like the tipoffcall said, with a Thompson submachine gun. And they arrested the other, who was a bodyguard for one of the top segregationist politicians in the state, in Hattiesburg. They was all charged with federal gun violations ’cause of the machine gun, which took ’em out of our jurisdiction.
PLAYBOY: What was the disposition of the charges?
EVERS: I doubt they’ll ever bring ’em guys to trial. But you know, this man we had in our custody. I tried to talk to him. I mean, he’d all but admitted he wanted to kill me, but I wanted to find out what made him tick. So I said, Listen, I don’t know your story, but why don’t you and me jus’ sit down and talk about it? But he was real surly; he wouldn’t say nothin’. I told him, Listen, you don’t know me and I don’t know you. Why would you want to kill me? I don’t want to kill you. I had all the chance in the world to kill you—we coulda dropped you right in your car—but I didn’t. Now, why would you want to kill me?
Up till then, he’d looked at me with these eyes like li’l snakes, but suddenly he dropped his head; he didn’t know what to say. I think for a second there. I stopped bein’ a symbol—some smartass sassy nigger lookin’ for power—and almost became another human bein’ to him. After we turned the three of ’em over to the federal authorities, he said to me, You’re fair. But I hate you. And he told the FBI later that he was still gon’ get me; nobody could stop him. Well, maybe he will someday. But in a funny way, I know he has a different opinion of me than when he came down with his execution squad. If he ever do get me in his cross hairs, at least it’ll be a man he’s shootin.’
PLAYBOY: Has the FBI been active in investigating threats against your life?
EVERS: Not at all. In this particular case, they was forced to act ’cause of all the publicity, and maybe ’cause of some pressure from friends of mine in Washington. But by and large, the FBI jus’ don’t wanna be bothered.
PLAYBOY: A number of civil rights leaders have accused the FBI of deliberately dragging its feet on civil rights violations in the South. Do you agree?
EVERS: I get the impression that the FBI don’t wanna rock the boat down here, maybe ’cause a lot of Southern politicians are real good friends of Mr. Hoover’s. Look at our Senator Eastland—he’s one of the worst racists since Bilbo, but he’s head of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which works hand in glove with the FBI, so Hoover never bothers him. I think Hoover don’t wanna antagonize those allies of his by actively protectin’ our rights. Plus the fact that most of the FBI agents down here are white Southerners to begin with, who have to work real close with the local white police and politicians, and probably share a lotta their prejudices. Far as I can see, their attitude is, Sure, we’ll investigate a crime once it’s committed, but we won’t do nothin’ to stop it. You saw that when Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights worker, was murdered on an Alabama highway a few years ago. The FBI had an informant in the Klan; he was right in the car with the Klansmen who shot Mrs. Liuzzo; he was armed himself; but he didn’t do nothin’ to stop it.
Right after Medgar’s death, when I was really holdin’ myself together with an effort, two FBI agents walk into my office and question me about it like I was on their list of suspects. I jus’ looked at ’em; I couldn’t say nothin’. Everybody knew I was in Chicago when it happened, but to say I could kill Medgar when they shoulda been out lookin’ for the ones that did, it was jus’ too much. Well, I got up from behind my desk and kicked ’em right out of the office. I can tell you, the way I felt, if they hadn’t gone quick, there woulda been big trouble. And these are the hot-shot protectors of law and order we hear so much about.
I remember another time one night in Natchez a while back, we was holdin’ a mass meetin’, and this FBI man, he comes over to me and says, Mr. Evers, I’d advise you not to go out that door tonight, ’cause they’re gonna kill you. So I say to him, Who are you to tell me they’re comin’ here to kill me? Can’t you stop ’em? And he jus’ looks at me real cool and says, No, our job is not to make arrests before but afterward. Great. That’s like sayin’, You jus’ go ahead and get yourself killed, but don’t you worry, we’ll look into it. Talk about closin’ the barn door after they stole the horse! So I jus’ lost my temper and told him, Well, I don’t need you round here. Get the hell outa my face! And I walked out the door and nothin’ happened.
But that’s the way they operate. Look at Martin—right up till the end, they was more interested in buggin’ his house and tappin’ his phone than protectin’ his life. With friends like that, you don’t need enemies. So I rely on God and my .45 to protect me—though maybe not in exactly that order.
PLAYBOY: There have been reports that a $15,000 contract was issued on your life the day you announced your candidacy for the governorship. Do you think it would be canceled if you withdrew from the race?
EVERS: Oh, sure, my life would be safe if I shuffled and tommed and said, g“Yassuh, Mr. Charley, yassuh, we niggers is real happy, such, jus’ step on us a li’l harder, we love it.” But then I’d be dead already. Anyway, white folks make more outa the danger than I do. It’s jus’ somethin’ you learn to live with if you’re a black man in Mississippi. There ain’t no certainty in life; you can live all your years cautious and not off end nobody and then get cancer or wrap your car round a pole or drop dead of a heart attack. So I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.
Anyway, that’s the way the people closest to me have gone. So many of the people who worked to help the black man in this state have died violently—Medgar, of course, and so many others. Vernon Dahmer, a man I was very close to, I asked him to become chairman of our voter-registration drive, and a week later they fire-bombed his house in Hattiesburg and burned him to death. The three kids, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mike Schwerner, I remember those boys like it was yesterday. Goodman and Schwerner, they was white, they came down from New York to help our voter-registration drive in ’64, and James Chaney, he was black, a native of Mississippi. Aaron Henry and me, we sent Goodman over to Meridian to join the other civil rights volunteers, and then him and Schwerner and Chaney set off for Philadelphia, Mississippi—and they got ’em on the way. We never saw ’em alive again.
Then there was Wharlest Jackson, a good friend of mine, the treasurer of the NAACP branch in Natchez. The last time I saw him, he came to visit me in Fayette and I recall him askin’ me, Charles, how we gon’ change white men’s hearts? We gotta change their hearts. Three days later, he stepped on the starter of his pickup truck in Natchez and a bomb blew him to bits. George Metcalf, the president of our Natchez branch, his car had blown up when he turned on the ignition, too, but he survived. And oh, God, so many others, people I never knew personally, but I feel I knew ’em jus’ the same. Emmett Till, the little kid from Chicago; after they was acquitted by an all-white jury, the two men who murdered him boasted to reporters how they’d done it.
In Port Gibson, they killed a Negro boy, cut off his genitals and then left him in the middle of the road for the vultures. Also in Port Gibson, an old black man who was crippled and wheeled himself round on a li’l wagon, he was on the icehouse steps when a white cop walked up and said, Nigger, get outa my way. He tried to pull his li’l wagon round, but he didn’t move fast enough, so the policeman drew his service revolver and shot him five times, kept shootin’ as he bounced down the steps. Then he went in and placed his order for ice. Nobody touched him. Nobody touches any of ’em.
Jus’ last year somebody planted a rumor at Jackson State College that I’d been assassinated, and this set off a demonstration, so I went out on the campus and I told the kids, Now, cool it, ’cause these bigots’ll kill you. They’re murderers, they killed my brother, they killed Martin, maybe they even killed Jack and Bobby, and the same kind of ism that killed them will kill you. And they promised me they’d wind things down, but while some students were still out on the street, the state highway patrol arrived—they’re sort of the Mississippi SS —and with no provocation, with no warnin’s to disperse, nothin’, they opened fire with shotguns loaded with double-O shot, the biggest and deadliest shot there is. And when they finished, two black students was lyin’ there dead and another 12 was wounded, some serious. One of the white cops got on the radio; it was recorded. He said, Better send an ambulance, we killed us a few niggers here. Jus’ like that. A grand jury later ruled that the troopers had a right and were justified in shootin’ off their 150-round fusillade, although none of the kids were armed or bein’ anythin’ more than noisy.
So that’s the way it goes down here: murder followed by whitewash, followed by more murder. And after a while, white folks get the idea it’s no crime killin’ black folks, ’cause they always get away with it. And for every one of us we know gets murdered, how many others been killed and buried deep in the forests or fed to the gators in the swamps? So that’s why I don’t get as riled up at the thought of my own death as some of my friends up North do. When death been walkin’ right behind you since you’re a baby, you get used to it. I grew up with death. He’s almost one of the family by now.
PLAYBOY: You were raised in the Mississippi of the Thirties. What effect did that have on you as a child?
EVERS: Well, you realize pretty early that white folks don’t put no stock on your life. I’ll never forget, I was ten and Medgar was eight when it happened, but it’s clear as yesterday: We saw our first lynchin’. We was livin’ in Decatur and there was this good friend of my father’s—Mr. Tingle was his name, Willie Tingle. Somebody said he looked funny at a white woman, an insultin’ look, and a mob got together and tied him to a wagon and dragged him through the streets. Then they hung him up from as tree and shot him full of holes. For months afterward, his clothes was lyin’ in that field, all bloodstained, and Medgar and I would see ’em every day. I can close my eyes and still see ’em, real as life. We was jus’ kids, but it shocked the daylights outa us. I went to my daddy right after it happened and I asked, Why did they kill him? and he say, Jus’ ’cause he was a colored man. So then I asked, Could they kill you, too? and he told me, If I did anythin’ they didn’t like, they sure could. I guess I grew up a little that day.
PLAYBOY: Did that kind of fear permeate your childhood?
EVERS: Well, like I say, you learn to live with it. And I’m grateful to my daddy; he taught me never to be afraid of nobody. My daddy was strong and he was mean. White folks used to call him a crazy nigger, ’cause they couldn’t scare him or make him crawl. Never. His name was Jim Evers and he was a big man, over six feet tall, jus’ like me. And he worked hard, from sunup to sundown, but he never let white folks break his spirit. Lookin’ back, I don’t know how he ever survived, back in the Twenties and Thirties, when the Klan was ridin’ high and things was so bad. But he would always stand up to white folks, even though it wasn’t nothin’ to kill a nigger in those days, when all the whites would say, Niggers no damn good anyway, let’s jus’ go out and kill us one. But they was afraid of my daddy, and that’s a lesson he taught me—that most bigots are cowards. If they haven’t got you outnumbered ten to one, they’ll back down, ’cause they’re afraid to meet you face to face.
I remember on Christmas Eve the white folks would always celebrate by shootin’ off fireworks, Roman candles and sparklers and firecrackers. And Medgar and me, we felt bad ’cause we wasn’t allowed to see it; no colored folks was allowed in town by the Klan. But our daddy, he saw how we felt and he told us, C’mon, boys, we goin’ to town. And he took a baseball bat he’d made for us out of an old broom handle, and he said, If anybody throws a firecracker at us, we gon’ use this on him.
So we walked down the road to Decatur and the white folks along the way jus’ stood there starin’ at us, their mouths hangin’ open. Once a white kid ran up in front of us and he was about to light a firecracker, so my daddy said, You throw that firecracker and I’ll bust your brains out. He ran and told his father, who came up all mad-lookin’, but my daddy jus’ told him, That goes for you, too! The white man backed right down and nobody gave us no trouble. That night we thought the Klan might come out to get us, so we sat up all Christmas Eve with rifles, waitin’ for ’em, but nobody came. It was lucky for ’em they didn’t; we’d have killed every one of ’em. Medgar and me, we was really disappointed they didn’t come.
PLAYBOY: Did local whites ever take any reprisals against your father because of his attitude?
EVERS: No, he always got away with it, and nobody ever laid a hand on him. If you’re afraid, they’ll smell your fear and be right after you. But not my daddy. I remember one time, I must have been about nine, when Daddy took Medgar and me into the commissary at the sawmill where he worked then. It was a real company store; you could buy on credit, but they’d squeeze your lifeblood outa you. Daddy would buy all our stuffthere, groceries and a box of snuff for himself—black folks always dip snuffdown here—and jus’ say, Charge it, and then he’d pay out of his pay check every Saturday. The owner there was a real mean red-neck; he hated niggers. Now, he knew that Daddy couldn’t read or write, but what he didn’t know was that my daddy had this natural gift for figures; he could add and subtract and multiply in his head faster and better than most folks can on paper. So this time, when he took Medgar and me into the store to pay his bill, he figured out that the owner had overcharged him by five dollars—and in those days, and with the little Daddy was makin’, that was big money.
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When it comes to the quest for legal weed, never taking “no” for an answer has been the key to ending cannabis prohibition