There is a common thread that runs through the lives of the individuals who were active in the Civil Rights Movement in this country. That thread is a commitment to service. Whether as educators, public servants, community activists or non-profit staff, the Veterans have a desire to help provide leadership as practitioners, counselors or mentors in the ongoing pursuit of human rights.
In 2004, the Veterans created an organization with the mission of preserving the history of the Mississippi Movement.
The Veteran’s Collection of over 200 videotaped personal interviews and stories; videotaped lecture series; videotaped conferences, Board meetings and symposium is available for future generations to learn of the Civil Rights Movement and the connections between race, class, culture and their impact on politics.
Now incorporated under Internal Revenue Service section 501(c)(3), the Veterans is a tax exempt organization.
Hollis Watkins is the Founder and President of Southern Echo, Inc., a leadership development, education, training, and technical assistance organization dedicated to empowering local residents throughout Mississippi and the Southern region to make political, economic, educational, and environmental systems accountable to the needs and interests of the African-American community.
Hollis has spent a lifetime in pursuit of racial justice in his home state. In 1961, at the age of 19, he was the first Mississippi student to become involved in the Mississippi Voting Rights Project of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
To address the leadership needs of the future, Hollis has pioneered an intergenerational model of community organizing that encourages the participation of young people on the same basis as adults, bringing them into positions of responsibility. "When I was much younger," he has said, "I got my strength from the older folks; and now I'm a little bit older ... and I get my strength from young people."
Hollis' dedication to community has been recognized by various groups and organizations including (SCLC), Tougaloo College, and the Magnolia Bar Foundation, just to name a few. He has received numerous awards and honors from educational institutions, labor, church, and community institutions in Mississippi and abroad.
Hollis was involved in managing, advising and working on many political campaigns, including the 1967 campaign for Robert Clark to become the first African-American elected to the Mississippi State Legislature since reconstruction, both Presidential Campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the 1986 campaign of Mike Espy who was elected as the first African-American Congressman and the 1993 campaign of Congressman Bennie Thompson.
Hollis played a major role in keeping the music of the civil rights movement alive. Having been sustained by music when he was hanging from handcuffs in a cell in Parchman prison in the 60's, he includes the musical traditions of the civil rights movement into the struggle of today, making it part of his organizing and bringing its message to a new generation of activists.
He currently serves on the board of Highlander Research & Education Center, Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group (SSAWG) and as chairman of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
Frank Figgers currently serves as a Strategy Consultant for One Voice. The mission of One Voice is to enhance civic engagement in the formation of public policy through leadership development, research support, training and technical assistance for advocacy groups, associations, and community based organizations. Figgers comes to One Voice via the Algebra Project at Lanier High School in Jackson, MS. While with the Algebra Project, Figgers served as the Parent and Community Development Specialist. After (27) twenty-seven years of services, Figgers retired from Sherwin-Williams Company as an Architectural Product Specialist, while also serving as Assistant Manager, Branch Manager, and Operations Manager.
Figgers served as Hinds County Election Commissioner representing the people of the third (3rd) district and was elected to two (2) consecutive four (4) year terms. Figgers was the first person of African descent to be elected in that district to that position. He also taught at Mississippi Baptist Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.
Figgers is a graduate of Tougaloo College with a B.A. Degree in Sociology. He is a member of the class of 1971. While at Tougaloo he worked with the Jackson Human Rights Project, founded by Howard Spencer, a Tougaloo College graduate, “68”, a SNCC Field Organizer and former civil rights worker. One of the best known initiatives of JHRP was the Georgetown Liberation School which later came to be known as the “Black and Proud Liberation School” and finally known as the “Black and Proud Elementary School.”
While working with the Jackson Human Rights Project, Figgers met, worked with and developed relationships with other former Civil Rights worker such as (Donald Jackson) Mohamed Kenyatta, Robert Lee Green, Jimmy Travis, Hollis Watkins, Curtis Mohamed, Euvester Simpson, Jessie Harris, Dr, L.C. Dorsey, McArthur Cotton, Jessie Morris, (Willie) Wazir Peacock, and many others.
Figgers currently serves on the board for the Young People Project (YYP) of Jackson, Mississippi since 1998. He also serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (VMCRM). Figgers is a member of Shady Grove M. B. Church, Jackson, Mississippi, where he serves as a deacon and chairman of the Finance and Administrative Services Support Committee. He is also a “subscribing” Life Member of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In addition, Figgers serves as Chaplin of the China Grove Lodge #110 PHA. Figgers is married to Laura Terrell Figgers and is the proud father of Fareeda Tobechi Figgers. He is a lifelong resident of Jackson, Mississippi.
Margaret Kibbee, a white college student from San Francisco, California, wanted to join the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) after hearing Fannie Lou Hamer talk about her experience within the voting rights movement. She couldn’t afford the trip, so she saved money from her babysitting gig and finally landed in the south in the summer of 1965. Ms. Kibbee was assigned to Indianola, Mississippi, the birthplace of the notorious White Citizens’ Councils that enforced segregation in the state. Her primary focus was to transport people to the courthouse to register to vote.
The Voting Rights Act had not passed yet, and white registrars denied most African Americans for failing to pass literacy tests or pay poll taxes. When everyone else left the state at the end of the summer, she settled in the Mississippi Delta. She eventually built a community center in Sunflower, Mississippi, which served as a central meeting place during the court ordered election in 1967. In 1970, she started working for Legal Services in Greenwood, Mississippi as a paralegal, where she is still employed.
She currently serves as Assistant Secretary for the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc. Board of Directors as well as for the Sunflower County Civil Rights Veterans and SPEAR, a group dedicated to helping those released from prison re-enter into the community. Ms. Kibbee says, “The Movement defined, directed, and made my life.”
Ms. Cynthia Dorsey Smith has been an active member of the Veteran’s board for more than six (6) years. During her tenure she has served as secretary, acting treasurer and on several committees. She brings an abundance of community organizing and program development experience to the board.
A 1978 Tougaloo College graduate she has participated in lifelong learning, earning training certificates in chronic disease self-management, diabetes self- management and as a community health advisor. Most recently she was chosen as a fellow in the inaugural class of the Community Research Training implemented by the Office of Health Disparity Elimination of the Mississippi State Department of Health.
Cynthia’s life mission is to design and implement community driven health and human service programs, strategies and activities that empower others so that they can “live their best lives now.”When not working, Cynthia enjoys activities and outings with her siblings, children, nephews, nieces, friends and the most adorable grandchild in the world.
I love being around young people,” says the Rev. Willie Blue, associate pastor of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss. “Old folks seem to have their minds already made up about things. Young people are so refreshing. They have open minds.”
After spending a lifetime fighting for civil rights in Mississippi and working in a Chicago nonprofit organization, Blue returned to Mississippi to get his college degree in mass communications. His classmates have been very helpful, reviewing notes and assisting him any way they can. But it is the students that Rev Blue is interested in and committed to helping as much as possible.
Thumbing through history books “Pillars of Fire” and “Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement,” Rev. Blue recounts his personal stories of the struggles of the past that he says continues to this day.
“When I was 17, I wanted to get away from the nonsense of Jim Crow. I joined the military. Then after I got out of the Navy, it was worse than when I left. I’d been around the world and back, and it seemed the nonsense had magnified. I had a real bad attitude then when I was about 21 or 22 years old. A lady from the NAACP told me that the Freedom Riders were in Greenwood and said, ‘You ought to go join them and join in the struggle'."
Rev. Blue did, working alongside people such as Julian Bond, NAACP chairman; Stokely Carmichael, a former leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC_ who also was known as Kwame Ture; Bob Moses, a civil rights leader and founder of the Algebra Project and Harry Belafonte.
Rev. Blue believes there seems to be a pipeline from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse with so many of them going to jail. This has motivated him to return to school. He enrolled at Jackson State University in Jackson, MS. Currently, Rev. Blue serves as the chaplain for the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
Dr. Jeanne M. Middleton-Hairston is a native Jacksonian who attended school in Jackson, Fort Lewis, WA, Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and graduated from Jim Hill High School in Jackson. Dr. Middleton-Hairston was one of eight black students to desegregate Millsaps College in the late 1960s, earning her Bachelor’s Degree cum laude in Political Science. Jeanne thenattended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, earning her Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She returned to Mississippi during graduate study and was employed by the Jackson Public School District in the Office of Research and Evaluation. Upon completion of graduate study,Jeanne joined the Department of Education at Millsaps College, the first African American to be appointed to the College’s teaching faculty, in 1978. While at Millsaps College, Dr. Middleton-Hairston served as Chair of the Department of Education for eleven years, achieved national accreditation for the college’s teacher education program, and founded the Millsaps College Principals' Institute.
As a contributing author of the award-winning history textbook Mississippi: Conflict and Change (1974), Dr. Middleton-Hairston continues to be active in the struggle to create honest and appropriate texts for history instruction in America's middle and high schools. During her 25 years of experience in public and private pk-12 and post-secondary education, Dr. Middleton-Hairston has provided professional and educational services to a diverse array of school districts, colleges and universities, community stakeholders, public officials, parent organizations and youth groups. Dr. Middleton-Hairston recently completed 10 years as the National Director of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® Program headquartered in Washington, DC, serving in 2013 more than 11,000 children and families in 96 cities and 29 states. Jeanne resides in Jackson, Mississippi and is married toJames M. Hairston, Jr. She is the proud mother of two daughters, Johnie Valeska and Valara Jeanne, a bonus son J.R. Hairston, and grandmother to Micah Daniel Pilson.
Dr. Daphne Chamberlain is a native of Columbus, Mississippi. Sitting at the feet of her grandparents, she gained a wealth of knowledge on the black experience in Mississippi under the system of Jim Crow. Her eyes confirmed what her ears had only heard after reading an anniversary edition of Jet magazine, which featured a story on the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Learning about Till was one of many events that solidified her love for history.
Chamberlain completed her undergraduate studies at Tougaloo College, and received her Master’s and Ph.D. in History from the University of Mississippi. Her research, titled “‘And a Child Shall Lead the Way’: Children’s Participation in the Jackson, Mississippi, Black Freedom Struggle, 1946-1970,” examined youth activism and leadership during the civil rights era. Since her days as a student at Tougaloo College, Dr. Chamberlain has given credit to people like Frankye Adams-Johnson; Amos Brown; Hollis Watkins; and Gene Young to name a few for giving her the inspiration to do her research and make that the work they did as young activists an integral part of her classroom instruction. It is through their experiences that she has been able to make the freedom struggle of the 1960s relevant and relatable to 21st-century students who are discovering ways in which they can affect change. She considers it an honor to work alongside people who made the history she writes and teaches about.
In the fall of 2010, Dr. Chamberlain was named the first research fellow for the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship & Democracy and continues to serve as a core faculty member with the Institute; and she was the founding Director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Civil Rights Education Center at Jackson State University. Dr. Chamberlain has served in the planning of the 50th anniversary events commemorating the Freedom Rides, the Tougaloo Nine, the assassination of Medgar Wiley Evers, and the Mississippi Summer Project (i.e., Freedom Summer). Dr. Chamberlain is currently Assistant Professor of History and Coordinator of Civil Rights & Social Justice Initiatives at Tougaloo College. One of her favorite quotes is that of human rights activist Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This quote has become a central part of the work she has done inside and outside the classroom, incorporating it into the work she has done at the COFO Center, with youths in the community, and now with students at Tougaloo College – the “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.”
MacArthur “Mac” Cotton said the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement has always been part of his existence. His grandfather was murdered for teaching local people to read. While walking into a church service at the age of 15, he witnessed a white boss shooting a Black sharecropper six times because the sharecropper decided to go to church instead of plowing that day. When the boss told him to stop and go back to the field, the sharecropper walked away. That’s when the boss grabbed him and killed him. His body laid there in the field for hours because people were afraid to carry him away. Decades later, MacArthur Cotton was still angered by what seemed like the people’s indifference that day. “Nobody really said and did anything,” he said. “Things like that just happened all the. It just happened all of the time.”
Mac Cotton began working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) while a student at Tougaloo College, joining full-time SNCC activists and fellow Tougaloo students like Dorie and Joyce Ladner, Jimmie Travis, and Joan Trumpauer. Together, they helped establish a Non-Violent Action Group on campus, which helped prepare each of these students as they later would become SNCC field secretaries. Cotton left school for a time to organize with SNCC in literacy and voter registration efforts. He was one of the first SNCC organizers in Walthall County in dangerous Southwest Mississippi. He was a Freedom Rider, too, and was arrested and put on death row for 39 days for trying to buy a bus ticket on the white side of the bus station. In Jackson, he was also arrested for distributing civil rights leaflets “without a permit.”
After joining SNCC’s work in Greenwood, MS, Cotton led two hundred people to the county courthouse to register, which got him arrested. Cotton, George Greene, and other SNCC organizers were sent to the notoriously brutal Mississippi State Penitentiary, most commonly known as the Parchman prison, because of their work helping Greenwood’s residents to register. At Parchman, Cotton and Greene were forced to lie on cold steel beds. Cotton was even hung by his hands for three hours in his cell.
Despite this physical abuse, Cotton remained steadfast. When he went to a new area to do voter registration work, he would take coffee breaks to get to know what the people were thinking. He found that those conversations would lead him to developing personal relationships with people in the community. “They have become willing to discuss some of their more personal problems.” Cotton later reflected that a key aspect of organizing was not “creating” leaders in local people, but helping them to see themselves as leaders.
After the Movement, MacArthur Cotton worked on the Algebra Project in the Mississippi Delta, advocating for quality public education for all students. He continues his human rights work as a board member of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
Derrick Johnson currently serves as National President for the NAACP. He recently served as a Mel King Community Fellow with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He holds a Juris Doctorate from South Texas College of Law in Houston, TX and a Bachelor of Arts from Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS. Mr. Johnson serves on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the Advisory Council of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, and as an adjunct professor at Tougaloo College. Additionally, Mr. Johnson was appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court as a Commissioner to the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission.
Before assuming his current roles, Mr. Johnson served as a Fellow with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, D.C., working in the office of Congressman Bennie G. Thompson as well as a Fellow with The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management Minority Fellowship Program. Mr. Johnson also served on the staff of Southern Echo, Inc., a non-profit organization located in Jackson, MS as a Regional Organizer providing legal, technical, and training support for communities within six states across the south (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and South Carolina). Later, Mr. Johnson successfully managed the Convention Center bond referendum campaign to construct a $65 million convention center in the City of Jackson and Jackson Public School District bond referendum campaign that brought $150M in renovations and new schools to the City of Jackson. Additionally, Mr. Johnson appointed by the Governor of the State of Mississippi as Vice-Chair of the Governor’s Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal after devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Johnson founded One Voice Inc. (formerly Community Policy Research and Training Institute (CPRTI)), a non-profit social justice organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for African Americans and other disenfranchised communities by increasing civic engagement in the formation of public policy through leadership development, research support, training and technical assistance. Since its inception, One Voice sponsors an annual Black Leadership Summit for elected and appointed officials and established the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute, a nine month program to support local leadership development for emerging and established community leaders between the ages of 25 - 45.
Mr. Johnson also served as co-chair of both the commemorations of the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Medgar Evers and 50th Anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer, held in Jackson, MS.
D’Quincy Johnson was born in Lena, MS on April 5, 1946. His family later moved to Jackson, MS, where he enrolled into Lanier High School. His classmates introduced him to the Civil Rights Movement, and he began traveling across Mississippi with Jesse Harris to conduct voter registration. He participated in several protests, demonstrations, and walk-outs throughout the early and mid-1960s all in an effort to secure the rights and benefits as a U.S. citizen.
In 1962, D’Quincy organized a walkout to protest the use of used text books in black schools. In 1963 he participated in a school walk out and was arrested and lock up at the Coliseum fairgrounds. D'Quincy also participate in a demonstration against the Armstrong Tile Company seeking employment. He also participated in the demonstration on the campus of Tougaloo College.
In 1965, he went to work for the CDGM as a duplicating clerk. He then was employed by The Friends of Children in Field Operations along side Fred Mangrum.
He eventually married and decided to leave his job at Friends of Children in 1969 to move to Chicago, Illinois to work as a bus driver. When he returned to Jackson, MS in 1975, he opened a club for approximately 5 years. In 1972, D'Quincy became one of the first Black fireman, where he was employed for 27 years.
Now retired, Mr. Johnson serves as a board member with the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc. He and his wife have three children and six grandchildren
In the summer of 1964, Frankye Adams-Johnson was among a group of students who was selected to attend the pre-freshmen program at Tougaloo College. You might say she was plunged smack dead into freedom heaven. It was during the 1964 Freedom Summer that she became part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, got involved with the Freedom Schools, and began to conduct voter registration activities throughout Central Mississippi.
She was so involved with Freedom Summer activities that the officials overseeing the pre-freshmen dismissed her from the second session of the program because they felt she was more consumed with the movement than her studies. Subsequently, as she got more involved as a college student, she was one of the original members of Tougaloo’s political action committee, a student political organization initiative created by student organizer Howard Spencer.
In 1967, Johnson left Mississippi and moved to New York, where she became a member of the Black Panthers. She and her sister were some of the first females to start and head up a branch of the Party, located in White Plains, New York. Community organizing consumed her life during the 1970s. During the 1980s, Johnson acquired two degrees and became a college professor, taught at various colleges in New York City, primarily at City College of CUNY. In the late 1990s, she moved back to Jackson, Mississippi, where she is currently teaching at Jackson State University. Over the years, she has done quite a bit of speaking and writing. One of her writing projects involves writing a novel and memoirs of those turbulent movement days. She is also a poet and fiction writer. Mrs. Johnson is the former chairperson for the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
Dorie Ladner got involved in the Civil Rights Movement as an activist after hearing about the murder of Emmett Till. After graduating from Earl Travillion High School as salutatorian, alongside her sister, Joyce Ladner, she went on to enroll at Jackson State University. Dedicated to the fight for civil rights, she and her sister began attending state NAACP meetings with Medgar Evers and Eileen Beard. That same year, Ladner was expelled from Jackson State for participating in a protest against the jailing of nine students from Tougaloo College.
In 1961, Ladner enrolled at Tougaloo College, where she became engaged with the Freedom Riders. During the early 1960s, racial hostilities in the South caused Ladner to drop out of school three times to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1962, she was arrested along with fellow student Charles Bracey for attempting to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter. She joined with SNCC Project Director Robert Moses and others from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to register disenfranchised black voters and integrate public accommodations. Ladner’s civil rights work was exemplified when she became one of the founding members of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in Clarksdale, MS, and later a key organizer for the 1964 Freedom Summer Project.
Ms. Ladner earned a Master’s in Social Work from Howard University, and served as a clinical social worker in both the Washington, D.C. General Emergency Room and Psychiatry Department for thirty years. Since her retirement, she has continued her work as a social activist by participating in genealogical research, public speaking, anti-war activities (marches against the war in Iraq), volunteering in the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and serving on the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc. Board of Directors.
Nsombi Lambright is the Director of Development and Programs at One Voice. She is responsible for grassroots fundraising and program coordination at One Voice. Working very closely with the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Nsombi coordinates work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, reduce the mass incarceration of people of color, and the organization’s election protection work.
Prior to joining the One Voice staff, Nsombi spent 8 years as Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. Nsombi led the ACLU’s work to end the school to prison pipeline, to address sentencing disparities and a number of other Constitutional issues. During her time with the ACLU, she helped to defeat a personhood Constitutional amendment that would’ve ended abortion rights as well as inhibited a doctor’s ability to perform life saving procedures on pregnant women.
Nsombi sits on the boards of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc. and the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative. She is also a member of the Jackson Branch NAACP, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Jackson Alignment.
Nsombi also served on the late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s transition team after his election in July of 2013. Nsombi is the proud mother of one son who is a high school student in the public school system in Jackson, MS.
Marilyn Lowen was born in Detroit, Michigan on November 1, 1944 near the end of World War II. The effects of the War helped shape her life because it brought awareness to the magnitude of death and destruction caused by the War. Her family was always active participants in social movements for peace and banning nuclear weapons. Their cultural consciousness helped her to easily engage with other individuals and groups who envisioned a world without racism, war, injustice. At the age of nine, Lowen helped found the Junior Russell Woods Neighborhood Association, working for equal housing. At 12, she joined Detroit Brotherhood Youth Council in swim-ins at segregated "Crystal Pool."
In high school, she joined in daily picket lines at Woolworth's in solidarity with Southern student sit-ins there beginning in February 1960. In 1962, she began attending Bennington College and joined the Northern Student Movement (NSM), leaving college to work full-time with NSM's Harlem Education Project (HEP). Lowen returned to Detroit in 1964 and worked with Detroit Friends of SNCC while attending Wayne State University. She headed to south to work in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Photo Department in 1965 before heading to Mississippi to work as a resource teacher with the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM), but a car accident interrupter her trip which put her in Selma, Alabama's Good Samaritan Hospital and then more hospital time in Detroit.
Finally landing in Mississippi late that summer, she began working with CDGM's Living Arts Project and helped establish CDGM centers in Panola County, where she had the honor of boarding with the legendary Robert & Mona Miles family of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She traveled through most of the state giving workshops on using creative movement and music to enrich early childhood learning experiences, emphasizing traditional Mississippi African-American ring songs and games. Lowen spent most of her time in Neshoba and Leake Counties, working closely with Freedom Summer Heroine Mrs. Winson Hudson, helping to write her unpublished autobiography, “A Lonely Walk to the Courthouse,” up until her passing in 2004. Lowen also worked on rural school integration lawsuits as head of the Leake County NAACP and pioneer in guaranteeing equal access in healthcare and federal housing loans. She earned a Bachelor’s from Goddard College's Adult Degree Program in 1973 and a Master’s degree at City College of CUNY in 1976. She taught many subjects to students from pre-school to advising independent graduate degree students from 1973 through 2001, primarily in New York City. She has served on the board of her New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Resident Association since 1976 and on the board of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement since 2008. She continues to write, organize, and study the Movement, and shares her life’s lessons everywhere she goes.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Charles McLaurin received his early education in the Jackson Public School District and went on to attend Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State Universities. In 1962, McLaurin joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was assigned to work as a Field Secretary in Sunflower County with the responsibility of assisting black citizens in Ruleville in organizing and implementing a voter registration project. After several mass meetings at William Chapel M. B. Church, SNCC sponsored a bus trip to transport a group of black citizens from Ruleville to register to vote in Indianola.
There is where he met and became friends with a sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer. McLaurin later served as campaign manager for Ms. Hamer’s Second Congressional District bid for the U.S. House of Representatives in Congress in 1963. A year later, he began directing the Sunflower County Freedom Summer Project, which brought more than forty young volunteers into Sunflower County under COFO. The Freedom Summer Project and a community led boycott against white businesses helped change their attitudes about the black majority in the county.
Charles McLaurin played a key role in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in Sunflower County, and served as a Delegate from the delta during the MFDP delegate seating challenge at the 1964 National Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In 2010, the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute on Citizenship and Democracy, located on the campus of Jackson State University, awarded Mr. McLaurin with the Hamer Humanitarian Award. Mr. McLaurin continues to serve on the board of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
Commentator, civil rights activist, politician, and speaker, Frank Smith, Jr. was born on September 17, 1942 in Newnan, Georgia. His mother was a homemaker and his father was a farmer and truck driver. In 1959, Smith earned his high school diploma from Central High School, where he was a member of the New Farmers of America as well as the debate team, choir and drama club. From 1959 until 1962, Smith attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he was a founding member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Smith left Morehouse during his senior year to play a role in the Civil Rights Movement.
From 1962 until 1968, Smith worked with SNCC, organizing and registering African Americans voters in Mississippi and Alabama. He is noted for his involvement and leadership role in planning and executing protests and marches in Greenwood, Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. In 1968, Smith moved to Washington, D.C. for a job as a researcher for the Institute for Policy Studies, focusing on education and planning issues. Smith became involved in local community issues and was elected to serve as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC). In 1978, Smith unsuccessfully ran for the District of Columbia City Council, but the following year he was elected to public office and served one term on the D.C. Board of Education. In 1980, Smith earned his Ph.D. degree from the Union Institute in Ohio.
In 1982, Smith was elected to the District of Columbia City Council, where he represented one of the most racially, ethnically and economically diverse wards in the city. Smith was subsequently elected to serve four terms on the Council, remaining there until 1998. During his tenure on the Council, Smith supported legislation creating subsidies for housing down payments, a lottery system for disposing of condemned and surplus housing, and establishing tax incentives for new business development. In 1998, Smith became chairman of the board and chief executive officer for the organization that worked to establish the African American Civil War Memorial and an accompanying museum. It is the only national memorial for the African American troops who fought in the Civil War, noted for its uniqueness.
Shortly after his birth in Brooklyn, NY in 1941, Robert “Bobby” Talbert and his family relocated to Fernwood, MS (Pike County), where he currently resides. His parents believed in equality and justice, so they purchased NAACP memberships for his entire family in 1944 for only 10¢ each. He would receive his first NAACP Lifetime Membership from Harry Belafonte in 1961. Bobby served as State Field Secretary for the NAACP Youth Council under Medgar Evers.
In 1960, Bobby joined CORE and traveled to Nashville, TN to participate in the Freedom Rides. He made it to Montgomery, AL and suffered the historical fate of arrest along with his fellow riders. In 1961, C.C. Bryant introduced Bobby to Bob Moses and the SNCC organization. He participated in several direct actions with members of SNCC, including the Greyhound Bus Station Sit-in and the Burglund High School Walkout in McComb, MS. He continued to actively work with SNCC as a field secretary until his draft into the Army in 1965, where he retired after 29 years at the rank of Lt. Colonel.
Mr. Talbert still maintains his NAACP Lifetime Membership and also serves as a 32nd Degree Shiner, member of VFW and American Legion, and board member for the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc. He is a faithful Deacon, Sunday School Teacher and Bible Study leader at Star Hill Church of Christ Holiness USA in McComb, MS. He was the 1st recipient of the C.C. Bryant Award from Pike County NAACP.
Harriet Tanzman was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in a predominantly Jewish part of Far Rockaway in Queens. Tanzman remembers being upset at the prejudiced comments made by some of her neighbors and classmates because they ran counter to the very liberal Jewish set of values with which she had been raised. Tanzman chose to continue her studies at the University of Wisconsin, noted for its reputation for progressive faculty and students. As a member of the W.E.B. Du Bois Club, Tanzman also worked with the local Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter.
Tanzman first considered going south after hearing some Freedom Riders speak in 1961. In the summer of 1963, she heard Gloria Richardson of the Cambridge, Maryland movement speak during a visit to California about how she endured death threats and physical repression in a violent fight to end school segregation. Tanzman recalls, "She basically invited us. There is this work to be done and you could participate." In September of 1963, she started a graduate program in Social Work at Wisconsin, but after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November of that year, she quit school and went to work in the Atlanta Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee office. She worked in Atlanta until January of 1964, and then went back to Wisconsin for a semester of graduate work in history. She remained connected to the civil rights movement through her involvement with CORE. However, after hearing Diane Nash speak on campus, she felt a strong pull to return to the South.
From late 1964 to June 1965, Harriet worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Alabama. She taught reading and other skills to folks in Selma, later working on a Southern Conference Educational Fund project in New Orleans. She has worked as a historian and chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement with a number of organizations and institutions, including New York University’s Tamiment Library. Her current activities include work at WBAI, New York's progressive radio station. She returns to the South as much as possible and remains involved in local political issues. Ms. Tanzman also serves as a board member of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
August 30, 1961, Robert Talbert, Isaac (Ike) Lewis, and 15-year-old Brenda Travis "sat-in" at the segregated Greyhound bus station in McComb. They were arrested immediately and instantly incarcerated for an unbelievable 28 days in the local county jail.
When Ike and Brenda were expelled from school, and refused readmission they were, in effect, handed lifetime sentences of raw poverty. Soon other African-American students would also be permanently expelled. Southern Blacks with high school educations could hardly expect, as a rule, to earn a fair, living wage. But to be denied the opportunity to attain even a high school diploma represented cruel and unusual punishment to Brenda and others.
On October 4, 1961, approximately 120 of Brenda's and Ike's protesting classmates, led by young Brenda, marched through town, to the steps of City Hall singing, "We Shall Overcome." One-by-one the students ascended the steps of City Hall to kneel and pray. There they were beaten and kicked by cops and others and arrested. Years later. Brenda related, "I believe I was predestined to become an activist. I joined the NAACP and became involved in the civil rights movement in McComb to get people to vote. But they were afraid."
Jailed again, this time for her role in the McComb march, Brenda and the other students sang and prayed through the night. After several days, "They took me out of jail," Brenda related. "Said, 'We're taking you to Jackson to see your attorney.' After a long drive they pulled the car up to the gates of the Reform School in Oakley. My family, nobody knew where I was. My mother was never allowed to visit me the whole time & they suffered."
Though sentenced to a year in Reformatory School, the young teenager was released before completing her full term under one condition, warned the Governor: "You must leave the state within 24 hours of your release!" After 45 years in exile, Brenda returned to Mississippi, June 21, 2006, for the 45th anniversary of her 1961 direct action against segregation in Mississippi. Today, Brenda is the founder and Executive Director of the Brenda Travis Historical Education Foundation in her home town of McComb, MS. She also serves as a board member of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
Isaac K. Byrd, Jr., is the founder of Byrd and Associates. Over the last thirty years the firm has been awarded many multi-million dollar judgments and settlements, including a record $150 million-dollar jury verdict for compensatory damages on behalf of six men injured as a result of asbestos.
Byrd’s political insights have been put into effective service for many persons, including races for mayors to judgeships in local, state and federal elections. His wisdom and dedication resulted in the election and re-election of Jackson’s first African American mayor in 1997 and 2001, respectively. He has been in the arena of politics in
Mississippi since 1979 when he and others ushered in William Winter’s governorship. Byrd became the first African American chancery judge to preside in a Mississippi courtroom.
Byrd’s support of the arts and humanities in Mississippi has become legend. His service has included on the boards of the Arts Alliance Board, Mississippi Opera, New Stage Theater, Ballet Mississippi and the Margaret Walker-Alexander National Research Center. He helped spearhead the national fund raising campaign for the Medgar Evers
Statue Fund and many others. He continues to support the Central Troopers Association, Women for Progress, Inc., the Mississippi chapter of 100 Black Men, the Mississippi Coalition of 100 Black Women, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and numerous African American churches and civic organizations. He singularly sponsored the national museum exhibit “Passages – Photographs in Africa” for the Mississippi Museum of Art. He has served as co-chair of the Alexis DeTocqueville Society, a philanthropic organization of the United Way.
Byrd is or has been pro-bono counsel to the Mississippi Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Mississippi State Baptist Convention, the Central Mississippi Troopers Association, Goodman-Chaney-Schwerner Award, the NAACP’s Vernon Dahmer Award, the R. Jess Brown award and hundreds more.