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Civil Rights Pioneer Myrlie Evers-Williams Has Donated Her Archival Collection To Pomona College

A Black woman who appears to be in her 60s or 70s speaks at a podium which is emblazoned with the seal of the President of the United States. She wears a grey and black coat and grey scarf, and her hair is short. Behind her President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden can be seen.
Myrlie Evers-Williams gives the invocation as U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden look on during the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.
(Justin Sullivan
Getty Images)
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Myrlie Evers-Williams, a leader of the civil rights movement, has donated her archival collection to Pomona College, where she received her degree in sociology in 1968.

Evers-Williams, 89, became known nationally following the 1963 assassination of her husband, NAACP official Medgar Evers, in the driveway of their Mississippi home.

She soon moved her three children to Claremont and started over.

"It was Pomona College, it was the teachers here who helped me move ahead and come out of this feeling of drowning," she said in a statement given to the college. "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.’”

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Gabrielle Starr, the president of Pomona College, said school officials had been working with Evers-Williams for five years to plan the donation.

"It feels extraordinary," Starr said. "This is one of the most remarkable and intimate collections of our contemporary historical moment that exists anywhere. And it's particularly special for us because those of us who've grown up in the shadow of the civil rights movement see people like Myrlie as giants."

Among Evers-Williams' many accomplishments are a run for U.S. Congress, helping to launch the National Women’s Political Caucus, serving as chair of the NAACP and becoming the first woman and layperson to give the invocation at a presidential inauguration, which she did for President Obama's second inauguration in 2013.

"She was in her twenties when all this story began to unfold nationally," said Starr. "She was a young mother. She was suddenly almost alone in the world. And the courage that it took for her to do all the extraordinary things that she's done, it's an inspiration."

According to the college, the newly donated collection includes personal items, including buttons and photos from her run for Congress; photos of her with presidents ranging from Kennedy to Carter to Clinton; correspondence related to her preparation from the Obama inauguration; her Pomona College ID card and more.

Starr said that as more and more people are able to view the archive, she hopes it provides meaning and purpose for those who may follow in Evers-Williams' footsteps.

"In a world where the overwhelming nature of conflict and violence and discord can really seem to wash over all of us, she stands forward as a light, and that gives us an opportunity to connect with human power, and the human spirit," Starr said. "I hope the next Myrlie Evers is out there and is able to be inspired by seeing what this one has done."

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