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Dennis, civil rights veteran and freedom rider, to serve as keynote at MLK convocation

David Dennis, Sr. has contributed 60 years of his life helping others gain civil and human rights in the South. (Photo special to JSU)

David Dennis, Sr. has contributed 60 years of his life to helping others gain civil and human rights in the South. (Photo special to JSU)

The Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University is pleased to announce that David J. (Dave) Dennis Sr. will be the keynote speaker for the 53rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Virtual Birthday Convocation at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. The event will be streamed via Facebook at JacksonStateU.

Dennis is a civil rights veteran who has worked and fought for 60 years to help people gain their civil and human rights in Mississippi and Louisiana. He was one of the original Freedom Riders that rode from Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1961. He served as field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality and co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations and helped organize Freedom Summer in 1964.

After Freedom Summer, Dennis returned to Dillard University, completing his degree in 1968, and earning his law degree at the University of Michigan. In 1972, he became an organizer challenging the Louisiana Democratic structure that resulted in an African American chairman and a majority African American delegation being sent to the national convention, the first time since Reconstruction.

“It is a high honor, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, to have Dave Dennis as this year’s keynote speaker for our MLK Convocation at JSU. As a Freedom Rider and activist in Mississippi and across the country, Dave Dennis deserves our deepest respect and admiration,” said Dr. Robert Luckett, director of the Margaret Walker Center.

Margaret Walker began MLK Convocation at Jackson State to honor King just nine months after his assassination in 1968, making it one of the oldest celebrations of his life in the nation.

For My People Awards

Doris Derby is an civil rights activist, documentary photographer, and retired director of Georgia State University’s Office of African American Student Services and Programs and adjunct associate professor of anthropology. She was active in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, and her work discusses the themes of race and African American identity. (Photo special to JSU)

Doris Derby is a civil rights activist, documentary photographer, and retired director of Georgia State University’s Office of African American Student Services and Programs and adjunct associate professor of anthropology. She was active in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, and her work discusses the themes of race and African American identity. (Photo special to JSU)

On 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, the Margaret Walker Center will host its 26th annual For My People Awards, sponsored by AARP Mississippi. This year’s Awards ceremony will feature three recipients in a virtual conversation, A Movement: The Past to the Present. For their contributions to African American history and culture, Dennis Sr. and Dr. Doris Derby, a civil rights activist and photographer, will be honored along with Dave Dennis Jr., an activist, scholar, and son of Dennis Sr. Moderating the panel discussion is Lance Wheeler, education and public relations manager for the Margaret Walker Center.

The For My People Awards are named after Margaret Walker’s classic poem, and past recipients have included James Meredith, Unita Blackwell, Robert Clark, Lerone Bennett, Andrew Young, Reena Evers-Everette and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

Dennis Jr. will be the first recipient of the Margaret Walker Center’s For My People – Doris Derby Legacy Award. Derby made a lifelong commitment to defending human rights and training new generations under her tutelage as an activist, scholar, artist and educator. The award honors descendants of activists who continue the traditions of the social justice movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

For more information, contact the MWC at 601-979-3935 or mwa@jsums.edu.