E. W. Steptoe, born on 14 February 1907, was the founder and head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Amite County before and during the early years of the civil rights movement. His work helped make the chapter one of the state’s largest, with about two hundred members and its own newsletter, the Informer, in the mid-1950s.
Along with C. C. Bryant and others, Steptoe assisted Robert Moses when he first brought the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to Mississippi. Like a few other older civil rights workers, Steptoe impressed the younger student activists by keeping weapons for self-defense. A dairy and cotton farmer, Steptoe faced economic pressure and the threat of violence for his activism. A Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission report worried that a “mixed group” had met at his home in 1965. Opponents burned crosses on his yard and threatened his life. Steptoe was a friend of Herbert Lee, an Amite County man who was killed in 1961 in retaliation for his civil rights activity. Steptoe himself went to jail in Jackson for the charge of protesting without a permit.
Steptoe first attempted to register to vote in Liberty in the early 1950s, and after at least six unsuccessful attempts, he succeeded in 1965. He worked with both SNCC and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in the mid-1960s, serving as one of the party’s delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. In 1967 he was one of the first civil rights activists to run for state representative.
Steptoe died in April 1983.
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1995)
- One Person One Vote website, http://onevotesncc.org/profile/e-w-steptoe/
- “Oral History with Eldridge W. Steptoe, Jr.” (1995) Mississippi Oral History Program, University of Southern Mississippi, http://digilib.usm.edu/cdm/ref/collection/coh/id/16119
- Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1997)