Dorie Ladner on Organization of American Historians panel, “1964 at 50: Remembering the Mississippi Summer Project,” Apr. 10, 2014
A Story From Here
SNCC’s Dorie Ladner was “born to rebel against oppression” and Palmers Crossing, a mostly Black community situated just south of Hattiesburg city limits, is part of the reason why. It was a community where people could go to church on Sunday and make their living on bootleg liquor the rest of the week. It was a community proud of its self-reliance, with small independent Black businesses and a local culture that was stubbornly determined to hold its collective head up high.
Black soldiers stationed at Camp Shelby frequented the juke joints and blues clubs where stars of the Chitlin Circuit regularly performed. As Dorie Ladner remembered, “I grew up with an appreciation of the blues and music and so forth. I also knew about the liquor being sold, and I also knew about the church. And those ingredients went into me being who I am, with the foundation my mother had given us.”
The Ladner sisters – Dorie and Joyce – grew up in a house where their mother taught the two girls not to be afraid of white men and encouraged them to stand up for themselves. Their uncle told stories about challenging and sometimes even beating up white people, and the neighbors’ brother, a Pullman Porter, would throw copies of the Chicago Defender to them when the train passed through town. Dorie later called theirs a family of resisters. “And that was the model we got,” Joyce remembered, “and we felt that when we joined the Movement, we were doing what they had prepared us to do.”
Hattiesburg was the economic and social center of southeast Mississippi’s piney woods. Unlike the sprawling cotton plantations of the Delta, small farms and independent landowners worked the land. Hattiesburg was a college town, home to the all-white Mississippi Southern College and William Carey College, as well as the military training base, Camp Shelby. In 1960, Black people made up 32.1% of the city’s 34,989 residents. The influence of the colleges and military tempered overt racism in the region, helping Hattiesburg Black resident’s gain an economic foothold and making white resistance to Black achievement less pronounced. Black businesses thrived on Mobile Street while dedicated educators at the segregated Eureka School provided some of the highest quality education for African Americans in the state. Still, economic gains did not translate into citizenship rights. Forrest County was the domain of Mississippi’s most notorious registrar, Theron Lynd, who made sure that by 1961, only 25 of 7,495 eligible black voters were registered to vote.
John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
Interview with Dorie Ann & Joyce Ladner, 2011, Civil Rights History Project, LOC