S. 2177 and H.R. 959, Medgar Evers House Study Act
STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 2177 AND H.R. 959, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO STUDY THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF DESIGNATING THE MEDGAR EVERS HOUSE IN JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
March 17, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s testimony regarding S. 2177 and H.R. 959, bills to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of designating the Medgar Evers House in Jackson, Mississippi, as a unit of the National Park System, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 2177 and H.R. 959 with amendments described later in this testimony. Priority should be given, however, to the 25 previously authorized studies for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic River System that have not yet been transmitted to Congress.
S. 2177 and H.R. 959 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of the Medgar Evers House in Jackson, Mississippi, for potential inclusion in the National Park System. We estimate that this study will cost approximately $200,000 to $300,000. Funding for this proposed study would need to be allocated from the set amount of funding that Congress appropriates for all special resource studies.
Medgar Evers was born in 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, fought in both France and Germany during World War II, and received an honorable discharge in 1946. He met his future wife, Myrlie Beasley, while a student at Alcorn College in Lorman, Mississippi. Eventually, they had three children: Darrell, Reena, and James.
Mr. Evers’ first job following graduation was as an insurance salesman in 1952. He gradually became involved in civil rights causes and action through the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, a society in Mississippi founded in 1951 to promote a program of civil rights, self-help, and business ownership. He later worked on behalf of the NAACP by organizing local affiliates.
In 1954 Medgar Evers applied for admission to the University of Mississippi Law School but was rejected. He filed a discrimination lawsuit against the university with the aid of his attorney, Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American justice on the United States Supreme Court. Even though the lawsuit failed to gain Mr. Evers admittance to the law school, he gained national attention and in the same year became state field secretary for the NAACP. His activities included recruiting new members, organizing voter-registration drives, and leading economic boycotts of companies that practiced discrimination.
Ultimately, these activities attracted the attention of those who opposed racial equality and desegregation, including those willing to resort to violence to maintain the status quo. These opponents of equal rights began to subject Medgar Evers and his family to threats, intimidation, and other forms of violence. His house was firebombed in May 1963 and he was assassinated by a gunshot in the back in his driveway on June 12, 1963. Subsequently, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Mrs. Evers and her children lived in the house for a year following the murder of her husband, but she decided that she could not remain there and moved her family to California. Subsequently, she donated the house to Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. The house had deteriorated over the years so the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Tougaloo College decided to restore it as a museum commemorating the life and tragic death of one of the icons of the Civil Rights movement in America. Guided tours of the house are available to the public by appointment.
S. 2177 and H.R. 959 include certain requirements for the study which we recommend deleting. Specifically, we urge deleting section 2(b)(5) of both bills, which would require an analysis of the effect of designation as a unit of the National Park System on existing commercial and recreational activities, and on the authority of state and local governments to manage those activities. We also urge deleting section 2(b)(6) of both bills, which would require an identification of any authorities that would compel or permit the Secretary of the Interior to influence or participate in local land use decisions or place restrictions on non-federal lands. H.R. 959, as introduced in the House, did not include these requirements.
The purpose of conducting a special resource study is to determine whether a resource meets the criteria for inclusion in the National Park System and, if it does not, to provide information on alternative means to protect the resource. We believe that the special resource study requirements under existing law result in a sufficient amount of information and analysis of the effects of including a resource in the National Park System. These additional requirements could potentially increase the cost of the study and the time required to complete it.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer questions that you or other members of the subcommittee might have.