Dorie Ann Ladner is an activist for civil and human rights who was born on 28 June 1942 in Palmer’s Court, Mississippi, a small community near Hattiesburg. Named after African American World War II hero Dorie Miller, who shot down Japanese planes at Pearl Harbor despite having received no weapons training, Ladner grew up in a nurturing environment that ultimately gave her the courage and determination of her namesake. During her youth, Ladner was mentored by local civil rights activist Clyde Kennard and exposed to the vision and leadership of Vernon Dahmer, both of whom later became martyrs in the struggle for equal rights.
Like many others, Dorie Ladner and her sister, Joyce, were deeply affected by the death of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was abducted and murdered in Money during the summer of 1955. Dorie Ladner subsequently enrolled at Jackson State University, and after nine students from Tougaloo College attempted to integrate the Jackson public library in March 1961, the sisters developed a close relationship with Medgar Evers, a leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People whose office was a short distance from the Jackson State campus. In the fall of 1961, after Jackson State students were prohibited from openly supporting the Tougaloo students, the two women enrolled at Tougaloo College. In 1962 Dorie and another Tougaloo student, Charles Bracey, were arrested for attempting to desegregate a Woolworth’s lunch counter.
Ladner moved deeper into activist circles and closer to the violence that defined the lives of countless black Mississippians. She worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality and was a founding member of the Council of Federated Organizations. In a movement laced with sexism and egotism she developed a reputation as a gutsy individual who stood up for her principles.
Ladner and other Mississippi activists were distraught over Evers’s June 1963 assassination, and two months later she took part in the March on Washington, which she thought offered hollow promises and selfish agendas and was remote from the struggles of black folks in Mississippi. She went on to participate in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March and the 1968 Poor People’s March.
Ladner served as an organizer during the 1964 Freedom Summer Project and as SNCC’s Natchez project director from 1964 to 1966. She remained politically active, working to oppose the Vietnam War and to support the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. After marrying and giving birth to a child, she returned to school, graduating from Tougaloo in 1973 and earning a master’s degree in social work from Howard University two years later. Ladner spent the next three decades as a social worker in Washington, D.C., and continued her antiwar and political activism through the Iraq War and Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She is featured in Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders (2002), an award-winning documentary about the civil rights movement. In 2011 Ladner received the Humanitarian Award from the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy. In 2014 Tougaloo College awarded Ladner an honorary doctorate, and on 23 October 2015 Natchez celebrated Dorie Ladner Day.
- Jelani M. Favors, “Shelter in a Time of Storm: Black Colleges and the Rise of Student Activism in Jackson, Mississippi” (PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 2006)
- History Makers website, www.thehistorymakers.com
- Dorie Ladner, interview by Jelani M. Favors (23 June 2004)
- Zinn Education Project website, zinnedproject.org