by Kathy Johnson
"The Unghosting of Medgar Evers" is the title of a book of poetry about the slain civil rights icon and now the title of a special one-hour radio production by WUKY 91.3 FM, the University of Kentucky's NPR station.
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Evers on June 12, 1963 in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi, just hours after President John F. Kennedy's nationally broadcast speech in support of civil rights. The WUKY radio production examines the civil rights struggle of that time through a blend of poetry from "Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers" by Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker; music from 1963; and historical accounts.
The show is hosted by DeBraun Thomas and produced by Thomas, WUKY General Manager Tom Godell and John Lumagui, director of operations for WUKY. Funding was provided by the University of Kentucky's College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Fine Arts.
Walker, an associate professor in the Department of English at UK, voices the poems, which take on the persona of Evers' widow Myrlie Evers, his brother Charlie, his white supremacist assassin Byron De La Beckwith and De La Beckwith's two wives. Historical context is provided by Everett McCorvey, UK School of Music's Opera Society Endowed Chair in Opera Studies and director of the UK Opera program and a native of Montgomery, Ala., where he grew up during some of the most tumultuous years of the Civil Rights movement. UK Department of History Professor Gerald Smith provides historic background of the people who were involved or affected by Evers' murder.
"I'm excited to have a chance to collaborate with Drs. McCorvey and Smith," Walker said. "Both of them are superstars and jewels in UK's crown. I'm really excited to be part of this program. Hearing the poems, music, and commentary come together and amplify the narrative has been very satisfying."
Tom Godell said from the moment he saw Walker's manuscript of "Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers," he knew it had to be turned into a radio show.
"Frank X Walker has the uncanny ability to get inside the heads of his subjects and tell us not only what they were thinking but why," Godell said. "In making the radio show, DeBraun Thomas has done an exceptional job of supplementing Walker’s powerful verse with the music and voices of 1963. It is our sincere hope that this book and our program will help prompt a dialog about race in this country that is long overdue."
"The Unghosting of Medgar Evers" will air on WUKY at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, and 7 p.m. Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 2. The production is now being distributed to radio stations nationwide via the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). The program is available at the PRX website.