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Lay for the Day
12th June


1963: Medgar Evers, civil rights leader, is fatally shot in the back outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi, by a Klansman, salesman, and later clergyman, called Byron De La Beckwith.*
1964: Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment in Pretoria, South Africa.

*De La Beckwith was unsuccessfully prosecuted in 1964, twice, in corrupted trials. He was finally convicted of the murder in 1994 and died in prison in 2001.

The killing was the subject of Bob Dylan’s song ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’: “But when the shadowy sun sets on the one / That fired the gun, / He’ll see by his grave / On the stone that remains, /Carved next to his name, / His epitaph plain: / Only a pawn in their game.” De La Beckwith was not, in fact, such a “poor white man” as Dylan’s song supposed.

The trial was the subject of the film Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), starring James Woods, Alec Baldwin and Whoopi Goldberg.

 


What you burn down is rebuilt
as a pile of cold, pale-crusted ash.
What you drown is tossed up
as sand and sponge, jelly, shell and weed.
What you bury works its way back to the top
to be eaten.
The fissure you paper over with lies
tears down the building.
The blood you take can’t be kept or given back
but feeds the earth where your death awaits.

 
John Gibbens
from Makings ’77–’83

 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar