President Barack Obama has selected Myrlie Evers-Williams to deliver the invocation at his public swearing-in on Jan. 21. Evers-Williams is the wife of Medgar Evers — a civil rights icon who was murdered in 1963. According to The Washington Post, it is apparently the first time that a woman has been selected to deliver the coveted prayer.
Additionally, it is also purportedly the first time that someone who is not an official clergy person has been chosen for the presidential invocation, which is slated to be delivered at the beginning of the event.
Biography.com has more about Evers-Williams’ background:
After her husband’s murder, Evers-Williams fought hard to see his killer brought to justice. Although [his killer, a white supremacist named Byron De La Beckwith] was arrested and brought to trial on murder charges, two all-white juries could not reach a verdict in the case. It would take approximately 30 years for justice to be served, with Williams-Evers keeping the case alive and pushing for Beckwith to pay for his crime. Her efforts were not in vain. In the early 1990s, Beckwith was again arrested and later convicted by a multi-racial jury.
Besides her quest for justice, Evers-Williams rebuilt her life after her husband’s death. She moved with her children to California and emerged as a civil rights activist in her own right. Evers-Williams spoke on behalf of the NAACP and wrote For Us, the Living, which chronicled her late husband’s life and work in 1967. She also made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Congress in 1970.
In addition to the aforementioned information about her life, Evers-Williams’ has led a successful career as a writer and activist, starting her own organization, the Medgar Evers Institute, and working diligently to keep her husband’s memory alive (read more about her here).
In an official statement put out by Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee, she expressed her excitement in being asked to be a part of the festivities. “It is indeed an exhilarating experience to have the distinct honor of representing” [the civil rights era at the event],” she is quoted as saying.
The activist will be joined at the public ceremony by conservative evangelical Louie Giglio, the founder of the popular Passion conferences and the pastor at Atlanta’s Passion City Church. While it may seem odd that Obama has selected someone who is described as right-of-center, theologically-speaking, the Post has more about the reasons for the faith leader’s inclusion:
An inaugural official said Giglio was picked for the benediction in part because of his work raising awareness about modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Those were core issues at his most recent conference, Passion 2013, attended by more than 60,000 mostly young evangelicals in Atlanta.
“During these days it is essential for our nation to stand together as one,” Giglio said in a statement. “And, as always, it is the right time to humble ourselves before our Maker.”
In 2008, Obama selected Rick Warren, the popular pastor who penned, “The Purpose-Driven Life,” to deliver the invocation. This, too, struck some as an odd choice, particularly considering that Warren opposes gay marriage. His inclusion was seen as an affront to gay activists and progressives at the time.
The move to include both Evers-Williams and Giglio this year is seen by some as an effort to bridge divides. Considering the administration’s continued battle with conservative religious groups over the contraceptive mandate, among other policy stances, it’s quite possible that the selection was made in an effort to bring all parties to the table.
(H/T: Washington Post)