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Friday, August 23, 2013

A Woman Brave and Brilliant


Dr. Lula C. “L.C.” Dorsey, December 17, 1938-August 21, 2013


She rose from the spirit-murdering poverty of Mississippi Delta plantations to spirit-giving national service by way of appointments from Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and William Clinton.  She never finished high school.  She earned a Doctorate in Social Work from Howard University.  Although she had purposeful experiences in South Africa, Israel, India, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China, she was primarily a mother of six children and a cultural worker who stayed at home in Mississippi.

She dedicated energy to improving health care and human rights in the Mississippi Delta.  She had the courage and genius to effect crucial prison reform at Parchman, one of the most notorious penitentiaries in America.

In special ways, her life was a response to the question Margaret Walker posed in the poem “Lineage.”


My grandmothers were strong.

Why am I not as they?


The life of L. C. Dorsey replied: My grandmothers were strong, and I am just like them.


In the rare chapbook Mississippi Earthworks (1982), an anthology of the Jackson Actors/Writers Workshop, Dorsey published “The Hunters/Executioners.”  The voice in her poem is that of a woman who offered “no apologies for the events that brought her /here to speak of love and determination.”  Her listeners  ---lawyers, professors and learned folk, fathers, hunters and men ---cried.  The speaker did not cry as she sketched a question of existential irony ---


And when she finished speaking

everyone knew why

this woman did not cry

for her tear well had run dry

as she had pondered this question many

times before

and was desperately trying to understand

the laws of God and man

that would let a bird escape death through


and a rabbit to out run death on the ground

while her sons could neither run or fly

and until she found an answer

she didn’t have time to cry.


Brave people do not cry. They ask diamond-hard questions.  They think. They act.


Dr. L. C. Dorsey is mentioned in a single sentence as one of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer’s friends in John

Dittmer’s Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1994):

During her last days she felt abandoned by all but a few old friends, movement colleagues like Owen Brooks, Charles McLaurin, June Johnson, and L. C. Dorsey, a woman who shared Mrs. Hamer’s background as a sharecropper and who, inspired by Mrs. Hamer’s example, became active in the struggle in the mid-1960s. (433)


Dr. Dorsey’s personality and voice emerged more vividly from Tom Dent’s Southern Journey: A Return to

the Civil Rights Movement (1997).  Dent asked “But what can we do to change some of this [rapid loss of

hard-won gains in the Delta]?”  Her answer was


All I can see…is that our salvation has to come from looking back at what we’ve done in the past that worked.  We’ve got to do something for ourselves; those of us who see what’s happening have to take more initiative.  For one thing, we have to put money back into the black community.  And we’ve got to do a better job with the education of our youngsters, both in and out of the public schools. (368)


In Kim Lacy Rogers’s Life and Death in the Delta: African American Narratives of Violence, Resilience, and

Social Change (2006), Dr. Dorsey’s importance as an agent of change in Mississippi is quite strongly

projected in what is quoted from interviews Owen Brooks and I conducted on June 21, 1996 and Brooks,

Rogers, and I conducted on July 18, 1997.


Dr. Dorsey’s accomplishments, her gifts to humanity, have been partially documented. There is more to be remembered, especially the standards she set for those who would speak truth in the United States of America.  Future generations can document her achievements more fully.  They and we can give honor and respect by trying to be as brave, brilliant, and strong as she was.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

August 23, 2013





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