President Barack Obama’s choice of Myrlie Evers-Williams to deliver the invocation at his second inauguration shifts the nation’s gaze on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, ever so gently from the euphoric post-racialism of a black presidency to a legacy of racial violence that has not yet been put to bed, as it also signals, perhaps, the president’s intention to devote public space to this still unsettled issue.
By dint mostly of her own persistence, nearly three decades after her husband Medgar Evers was murdered, Evers-Williams succeeded in having his case reopened. In so doing, she opened up challenging questions about how best to repair remote harms and to gain communal integrity from difficult, and differing memories of the past. In 1994, after two previous trials ended in a hung jury, her husband’s killer was convicted. It was, she said, a moment of personal peace and collective justice. What followed were fresh trials of many other civil rights era cold cases and, in spheres outside the courtroom, echoes of the new southern justice in the form of public apologies and truth processes.