Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
Half a century after his death, an American hero known for voting rights advocacy was honored at an annual event Friday night.
The Greater Terre Haute Branch of the NAACP celebrated the life and legacy of civil rights activist Medgar Wiley Evers at the 2013 Freedom Fund Awards Banquet held at Holiday Inn of Terre Haute.
A U.S Army veteran, Evers was gunned down on his driveway in 1963 in the midst of his work in the civil rights movement, including working to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi.
Theressa Bynum, Freedom Fund committee chair, paid tribute to her mentor and remembered “walking out the door to go to work” when she heard of Evers’ assassination.
“Medgar Evers was a member of the NAACP family. He was doing the work of NAACP. He was trying to register African Americans to vote ... because it mattered,” Bynum told the attendees.
“VOTING MATTERS Overcome Violence” is the theme of this year’s awards banquet, which is sponsored by First Financial Bank, among others.
Bynum said that Evers “exemplified commitment to make democracy work” and helped others exercise a fundamental right: voting.
Upon his death, his wife, Myrlie, continued his work and therefore overcame violence, Bynum said.
“May his fight to register voters continue and his resolve to advocate for the civil rights of all Americans continue to live in the hearts and minds of new and old NAACP members and organizers alike,” she said.
The Freedom Funds Awards Banquet is the Greater Terre Haute Branch of NAACP’s annual major fundraiser, “to support our existence in Terre Haute,” said Valerie Hart-Craig, branch president.
But the event is more than just a fundraiser.
“It allows us to bring the community in to actually understand the work that we do. ...[and to] honor people in the community who do civil rights work,” said Hart-Craig.
“One of the things we find very important is to support those who support us,” she told the attendees during the reception.
Life Membership Achievement Awards were presented at the beginning of the event recognizing Dr. Caroline Carvill, Trannie Grainger and Lena Johnson, who received a plaque at the event.
These individuals made a commitment to “actually invest in this organization,” by becoming life members, Hart-Craig said. The three joined over 50 life members, who have paid for their life membership in full.
In addition to remembering Evers, the people who spoke at the event emphasized the importance of voting.
In his welcome remarks, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said that people in elected positions should think about what’s best for everybody and not just their own interests.
This remark brought the crowd to applause.
“It is important to engage people, to get them to vote,” Bennett said.
Hart-Craig echoed those remarks but also emphasized the importance of focusing on local elections and “the people who represent us at home.”
More than 100 people from diverse backgrounds in the community attended the event, which also included a reception, a brief awards ceremony, a dinner and a keynote speech. Most notably, many young people were present at the event, including students from Indiana State University and Ivy Tech Community College.
The keynote speaker was Hilary O. Shelton, vice president for advocacy and director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau. He is responsible for advocating the federal public policy issue agenda of the NAACP, the largest and most widely recognized civil rights organization in the U.S.
At the event, he discussed federal public policy issues affecting civil rights.
Shelton has spoken at previous Freedom Funds Awards Banquet before.
“It’s great to be back,” he told the Tribune-Star.
Most importantly, he said, he wants to “celebrate the work of this great branch.”
“So great to see the branch in good condition, keenly aware of the agenda and working so hard to advance that agenda.”
Among the items on the agenda, he said, was the Affordable Care Act and ending gun violence.
And true to the theme, Shelton also spoke about voting and the “importance of people participating in our political process.”
“Democracy will wither up and dry if we don’t do everything we can to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to vote,” he told the Tribune-Star.
A 2007 recipient of the National NAACP Medgar W. Evers Award for Excellence, Shelton called Evers “my profound hero.”
“I’m extremely and deeply honored. ... [of] any comparison made between the life’s work of Evers and the work I’m given the opportunity to do,” he said.
And at the event Bynum reminded everyone of this work.
She quoted Evers as saying, “Our only hope is to control the vote.”
“Please remember that,” Bynum said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@ tribstar.com.
Terre Haute NAACP awards
Life Membership Achievement Awards were presented at the Greater Terre Haute Branch of the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet on Friday.
The recipients were:
• Trannie Grainger — “I do believe and support the work of NAACP.” A former educator with Vigo County schools, Grainger has been a member for 25 years. Upon retiring, she decided to become a life member.
• Lena Johnson — “I believe in the NAACP because they’re for everyone. I just want to be a part and support them.” Also retired, she has been a NAACP member for 15 years. She is passionate about youth and young people’s issues.
• Dr. Caroline Carvill — Another member who was honored for her commitment to the organization. “She could not be here tonight but we’d still like to honor her,” Terre Haute branch president Valerie Hart-Craig said.
Each was congratulated for having become a fully paid life member in the NAACP and received an engraved, laminated plaque.
“Life membership helps sustain the NAACP,” said Oscar Session, Terre Haute Branch life membership chair. “Thank you for your commitment to the struggle for freedom and equality,” he told the recipients.