Susie Bolden Ruffin was born on 25 May 1908 and was active in civil rights efforts in Laurel throughout her life. In 1964 she served as an organizing member of both the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Traveling with Fannie Lou Hamer and Unita Blackwell, Ruffin worked to energize the MFDP and to register black voters.
Ruffin started the Freedom Democratic Party Newsletter and served as its editor from 1965 to 1967. Originally circulated as a SNCC pamphlet to publicize opposition to US involvement in Vietnam, the Freedom Democratic Party Newsletter grew into a bimonthly publication of between three and twelve pages that served as the MFDP’s main organ. Each newsletter covered a range of issues, including information and tips for voter registration drives; reports on violence and arson; news of organizing meetings for the Deacons of Defense, the Poor People’s Corporation, and other groups; and updates on school integration efforts. As editor, Ruffin frequently wrote rousing and pointed calls to action. In July 1965, following the MFDP’s failed effort to unseat the white Democratic Party delegates at the Atlantic City Convention, she chided readers to keep the faith: “The Freedom Democratic Party has shaken the foundation of constitutional government in our nation and the white supremacists of Mississippi are afraid they will be left out on a limb that is being hacked from the political tree.” Ruffin also championed the efforts of the poor, who took great risks to participate in movement activities, contrasting these black Mississippians to the “middle class urban people” and “Negro businessmen, teachers, and wealthy ministers” who sought change through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which she believed was out of touch with the experience of the majority of the state’s African Americans, especially those living in poverty in the Delta. In November 1965 Ruffin accompanied Russ Benedict of the US Department of Agriculture on a tour of impoverished areas in an effort to secure federal aid for the Poor People’s Corporation.
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission closely monitored Ruffin’s activities. In 1965 the commission and others accused the Child Development Group of Mississippi of wrongdoing because of its ties with the MFDP and other movement organizations. A Child Development Group staff member was accused of using a Head Start car to drive Ruffin to speaking engagements in the Delta.
Ruffin died on 12 May 1989. A Laurel, Mississippi, street is named in her honor.
- Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (1999)
- Elizabeth Sutherland Martínez, ed., Letters from Mississippi (1965; 2002)
- Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party newsletter, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi
- Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Sovereignty Commission Online website, www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/