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Civil rights ‘giant’ Dorie Ladner dead at 81

Dorie Ladner, “a giant in the civil rights movement,” has died. She was 81.

“My beloved sister, Dorie Ladner, died peacefully on Monday, March 11, 2024,” her sister, Joyce, posted on Facebook. “She will always be my big sister who fought tenaciously for the underdog and the dispossessed. She left a profound legacy of service.”

She said the date for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Civil rights veteran Flonzie Brown-Wright was featured with Dorie Ladner in the 2002 documentary, “Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders,” which premiered at the Kennedy Center.

“You do this because you have been called to do this,” she said. “Dorie was truly true to her calling. I absolutely loved her spirit and her willingness to share and take on an issue she felt was right.”

Cynthia Goodloe Palmer, executive director of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, said Wednesday, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our fellow freedom fighter. Her legacy will live on in infamy, and we will do all we can to continue the fight for freedom.”

Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council, described Dorie Ladner as “a giant in the civil rights movement” and “a vital part of the grassroots effort to change Mississippi and America.”

The sisters grew up in Palmer’s Crossing, where they were mentored by NAACP leaders Clyde Kennard and Vernon Dahmer Sr.

The Ladner sisters attended Jackson State University and became active in the movement. University officials expelled the sisters when they protested the 1961 arrests of nine Tougaloo College students, who had dared to integrate the all-white library in downtown Jackson.

Afterward, the sisters attended Tougaloo College and joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Dorie Ladner even escorted Fannie Lou Hamer to register to vote.

The sisters worked with NAACP leader Medgar Evers. And when he was assassinated in 1963, they marched in protest toward the Capitol.

“I started singing, ‘Oh Freedom,’” Dorie Ladner recalled. “They brought the dogs out. I got in a truck to keep from being bitten.”

Starting with the 1963 March on Washington. Dorie Ladner participated in every major civil rights march through 1968.

In late 1964, she and other SNCC leaders worked in the movement in Natchez. A bomb destroyed the building next to where they were staying.

She told author John Dittmer that Natchez Police Chief J.T. Robinson informed her, “The bomb was meant for you. I’m surprised you haven’t been killed already.”

After her movement work, she earned her master’s in social work, counseling emergency room patients, visiting schools and working with the Rape Crisis Center.

She received the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy Humanitarian Award. In 2014, she received an honorary doctorate from Tougaloo.

She continued to fight for causes she believed in. “We will not be moved,” she said in a 2017 interview. “Oh, hell, no. Too many lives have been lost and battles fought.”

On May 4, the Humanities Council plans to honor the Ladner sisters with a new Freedom Trail Marker in Palmer’s Crossing.

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