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In 1994, eight black and four white jurors found 74-year-old white supremacist and long-time Klan member Byron De La Beckwith guilty of first-degree murder in the 1963 killing of civil rights activist and U.S. Army veteran, Medgar Evers. De La Beckwith had been tried decades earlier for the infamous and gutless crime—he shot Evers in the back, with a rifle, as the 37-year-old father stood in the driveway of his Jackson, Miss., home—but two trials ended in hung juries.
When De La Beckwith was finally held accountable for the assassination on this day in 1994, Evers’ widow Myrlie, who had fought for justice for her husband for more than 30 years, felt she might finally be free of the anger and hate she had borne for so long.
Her words upon hearing the verdict? “Yes, Medgar!”
Here, LIFE.com presents a series of photographs by John Loengard—including one that remains among the most stirring of the Civil Rights era: a portrait of a dignified, deeply grieving Myrlie Evers comforting her weeping son, Darrell Kenyatta, at Evers’ funeral.
All these years later, it remains a grimly fascinating exercise to revisit the coverage of Evers’ death. The domestic terrorism that would, in some ways, define the era—the murders of JFK, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, MLK and others—had not yet reared above the horizon, and had not yet stunned and saddened the country and the world. So the daylight killing of a man of Evers’ stature and significance was—for people of conscience, anyway—an especially appalling crime.
In its June 28, 1963, issue, LIFE confronted the assassination with a combination of scorn (for the Klan and for white supremacists in general), anger (at the waste of such a life as Evers’) and an occasionally sardonic venom.
In the same issue, LIFE published a powerful tribute to Evers by his widow, Myrlie. “We all knew the danger was increasing,” she wrote. “Threats came daily, cruel and cold and constant, against us and the children. But we had lived with this hatred for years and we did not let it corrode us.” (See the page spreads from Myrlie Evers’ tribute in the gallery above.)
Medgar Evers is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1970 the City University of New York established Medgar Evers College in his name. His daughter, Reena, his youngest child, James, and his widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams (she married again in 1976) are still alive. His oldest son, Darrell, died of cancer in 2001; he was 47.
Byron De La Beckwith—who in the 1970s served three years in prison for transporting explosives—died at the University of Mississippi Medical Center while serving a life sentence for Evers’ murder. He was 80 years old.
Today, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, is Harvey Johnson, an African American and proud native Mississippian.