“Where is the Voice Coming From,” is a short story composed by Eudora Weltry following the thoughts of Byron De La Beckwith, the murderer of civil rights leader Medgar Evans. Within fictional prose, the thoughts of Byron De La Beckwith are exposed in an attempt to confront the reasons for his killing of Evans and the afterthoughts of his act. Before the murder took place, it is of importance to note the change in the political atmosphere towards the civil rights movement. A few hours before Edgar’s murder, President John F. Kennedy announces via television that congress is passing bills in support of the Civil Rights movement. His voice his heard across the nation exclaiming, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue… The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated” (Weltry 51). This lead in within the preface of Weltry’s story sets the stage for the man the readers are soon to meet. A man determined in his ways, but facing a changing climate from the civil rights movement
“You can reach and turn it off. You don’t have to set and look at a black nigger face no longer than you want to, or listen to what you don’t want to hear. It’s still a free country” (Weltry 52). From the beginning of the story, the voice and intent of Beckwith rings ever so clear with this statement. In regards to the changing stance of politics in Washington towards the civil rights movement, Beckwith shows his way of dealing with it, with eyes closed toward the inevitable. This is the stance of the man facing the summit of controversy regarding the ways of his life. This controversy is uninvited, a change that he does not approve nor will allow to continue without protest.
In many ways it is possible to perceive a man who is quite unstable in the mind. But this is not the purpose of Weltry’s short story. As a source of the speculative nature of the events, Weltry proposes a different tone. It is the nature of change in society and in the individual. In the Deep South where this event took place historically and within the story, there is a socially divided society with white upper class oppressing blacks through segregation and social disposition. The ideas that prevailed in society were so strong that in many instances even blacks considered the oppression legitimate and their inequality normal. Its easy then to see that whites, such as Beckwith, would want to retain the status quo, for their position was much higher in social class and esteem.
Weltry invites her audience to see the events of Evans’ murder from this perspective. Beckwith imagines himself not a hero of some counter-movement to the civil rights movement, but a protector of his own way of life and the way he believes things to be, decided by himself. The exchange in one ideology with another is a shift that exchanges blows to each other as the former leaves and the latter takes its place. This is easily seen in the chaos in and resistance to the civil rights movement. Beckwith constantly remarks throughout the short story about how everything is hot and growing hotter, a metaphor for how change was effecting him. “And it’s so hot. It looks like the town’s is on fire already, whichever way you turn…I was already tired of seeing a hundred cops getting us white people nowhere” (Weltry 56). The wave of change has conceived not just a disapproval of the way things are going, but also lack of faith in the government for dealing with the civil rights movement.
“I done what I done for my own pure-D satisfaction” (Weltry 53). In the end Beckwith is apathetic towards the outcome, merely contented by the consolation of his act upon his ideas and views. “On the TV and in the Papers, they don’t know but half of it. They know who Roland Summers was without knowing who I am. His face was in front of the public before I got rid of him, and after I got rid of him there it is again—the same picture. And none of me” (Weltry 55). Although it is hard to empathize with Beckwith, an understanding of the conflict at the root of his action is gained through Weltry’s story.