Beckwith convicted of killing Medgar Evers On this day in 1994, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith is convicted in the murder of African-American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, over 30 years after the crime occurred. Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home on June 12, 1963, while his wife, Myrlie, and the couple’s three small children were inside. Medgar Wiley Evers was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After fighting for his country, he returned home to experience discrimination in the racially divided South, with its separate public facilities and services for blacks and whites. Evers graduated from Alcorn College in 1952 and began organizing local chapters of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In 1954, after being rejected for admission to then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School, he became part of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school. Later that year, Evers was named the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi. He moved with his family to Jackson and worked to dismantle segregation, leading peaceful rallies, economic boycotts and voter registration drives around the state. In 1962, he helped James Meredith become the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, a watershed event in the civil rights movement. As a result of his work, Evers received numerous threats and several attempts were made on his life before he was murdered in 1963 at the age of 37. Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and Ku Klux Klan member widely believed to be the killer, was prosecuted for murder in 1964. However, two all-white (and all-male) juries deadlocked and refused to convict him. A second trial held in the same year resulted in a hung jury. The matter was dropped when it appeared that a conviction would be impossible. Myrlie Evers, who later became the first woman to chair the NAACP, refused to give up, pressing authorities to re-open the case. In 1989, documents came to light showing that jurors in the case were illegally screened. Prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter worked with Myrlie Evers to force another prosecution of Beckwith. After four years of legal maneuvering, they were finally successful. At the third trial they produced a riflescope from the murder weapon with Beckwith’s fingerprints, as well as new witnesses who testified that Beckwith had bragged about committing the crime. Justice was finally achieved when Beckwith was convicted and given a life sentence by a racially diverse jury in 1994. He died in prison in 2001 at the age of 80. 1883 Southern Pacific Railroad completes “Sunset Route” The Southern Pacific Railroad completes its transcontinental “Sunset Route” from New Orleans to California, consolidating its dominance over rail traffic to the Pacific. One of the most powerful railroad companies of the 19th century, the “Espee” (as the railroad was often called) originated in an ambitious plan conceived in 1870 by the “Big Four” western railroad barons: Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, and Mark Hopkins. A year earlier, the Big Four’s western-based Central Pacific had linked up with the eastern-based Union Pacific in Utah, creating the first transcontinental American railway. With that finished, the “Big Four” began to look for ways to increase their control over West Coast shipping, and decided to focus their efforts on extending the California-based Southern Pacific southward. By 1877, the Southern Pacific controlled 85 percent of California’s railroad mileage. Huntington, who now dominated the company, saw an excellent opportunity to create a transcontinental line through the southern United States. Huntington had to act fast if was to beat the competition. The Texasand Pacific Railroad was already pushing westward toward the Pacific at a fast pace. Marshalling his awesome energy and financial resources, Huntington began driving his Southern Pacific line eastward. He won the race in 1881, when he linked the Southern Pacific to the Santa Fe Railroad at Deming, New Mexico, creating the second American transcontinental railway. Two years later, on February 5, 1883, Huntington gained full control of a number of smaller railroads, creating the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Route” from New Orleans to California. With the “Sunset Route,” Huntington confirmed his domination over California rails. He had taken considerable financial risks to build the Southern Pacific system, and he collected very considerable financial rewards. The Southern Pacific had a near monopoly over rail service to California, and Huntington and his associates took advantage of the situation by charging high shipping rates. Termed “the Octopus” for its tentacled stranglehold on much of the California economy, the Southern Pacific inspired Californians to create some of the first strong public regulations over railroads in American history. But despite the anger and outrage Huntington’s exploitation inspired, few would deny that the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad played an essential role in fostering the growth of a vibrant California economy for decades to come. 1826 Millard Fillmore marries Abigail Powers On this day in 1826, Millard Fillmore, who later becomes the 13th president of the United States, marries Abigail Powers, a New York native and a preacher’s daughter. As a youngster, Abigail’s mother encouraged her daughter’s interest in reading and urged her to take advantage of the vast library her father had left after his death. Abigail was initially home-schooled and it was not until the relatively advanced age of 21 that she enrolled in New York’s New Hope Academy, were she met Fillmore. Although historical accounts differ as to the circumstances of the pair’s meeting, they fell in love and Abigail stayed on at New Hope as a teacher after her graduation, waiting patiently for the younger Fillmore to complete school and build a career as an attorney. It took Fillmore an additional five years to reach a point where he felt he could support a wife and family financially. After their marriage, either out of necessity or personal interest, Abigail continued teaching, making her the first president’s wife to have held a job after marriage. She quit teaching in 1828 when their first child, Millard Powers Fillmore Jr., was born. The arrival of Millard Jr. was soon followed by the birth of a daughter, Mary Abigail. Fillmore moved his young family to Albany, and then Buffalo, where his career in politics gained steam. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives, then as New York’s comptroller in 1847. A year later, Zachary Taylor tapped Fillmore to be his running mate in his successful bid for the presidency. When Taylor died unexpectedly in 1850, the Fillmore family moved into the White House. The social life of the White House was fairly quiet under Abigail Fillmore. She preferred reading to parties and opted out of many social events due to an old ankle injury that left her with chronic pain. She often delegated hostess duties to her daughter, concentrating instead on lobbying Congress for funds to create the first official White House library. Fillmore lasted one term as president. At his successor’s inauguration, held outdoors in the freezing cold, Abigail became ill with pneumonia and died a short time later.