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Thu, 10.17.1940

Dave Dennis, Activist, and Author born

Dave Dennis

*Dave Dennis was born on this date in 1940.  He is a Black civil rights activist, author, and educator. 

David J. Dennis was born on a plantation of sharecroppers in Omega, Louisiana, into a life of Jim Crow segregation.  He is the son of Thomas Dennis and Tizzie Perry Dennis Shepperd.  His family grew up in the Shreveport area where many Black families didn't have the most basic utilities, something missing from his life until he was nine years old.  Even after Dennis's family moved to the inner city of Louisiana, Black citizens, including his family, were "only allowed certain rights by entering white territory."  

He was the first of his family to graduate from Southern High School, which was connected to Southern University.  He attended while student protests were forming.  During this time in his life, he wasn't interested in being a part of any protests or demonstrations; he says, "I didn’t have this interest in civil rights that you might think most people are born with."  He didn't want any part of the civil rights activism, "Things were happening [in the country], and I was trying to run from them.” 

Dennis attended Dillard University in New Orleans and ignored American Civil Rights protests until he met a young woman named Doris Castle. She supported the movement, and he became involved with the movement through Castle. "She was handing out meeting flyers and speaking to a group of students on campus one afternoon. I thought she was cute, walked over to talk to her after her presentation, and, sooner than I realized, agreed to attend a CORE demonstration," he said.  

Dennis' first demonstration was part of a sit-in at a Woolworth store in New Orleans.  This was his first of 30 arrests of the Movement. However, the turning point that occurred when Dennis decided to become involved in the movement was a statement said in the meeting debating whether to continue the Freedom Rides or not when someone stood up and said, "There is no space in this room for both God and fear." He made a conscious choice to be on that bus, to continue the ride. Dennis dropped out of school and started this new path in his life.  In 1972, he organized a successful challenge to the Louisiana Democratic Party structure.  This represented the first time since Reconstruction that a majority of African American delegates from the Louisiana Democratic Party to the Democratic National Convention and an African American chairman of the delegation.

After Dennis disconnected himself from the South, he went back to a Bachelor of Science degree from Dillard University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School.  He eventually opened up his law firm in Lafayette, Louisiana.  At a reunion for the anniversary of Freedom Summer in 1989, Dave Dennis reconnected with Bob Moses. He learned of his project to teach algebra to sixth graders in inner-city schools, and Dennis became intrigued by Moses' idea. They wanted to expand the program into the Black public schools of the Delta of Mississippi. They eventually expanded into Mississippi as well as Louisiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas.  

Currently, Dennis maintains the position of director and CEO of the Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project: the nonprofit organization that aims to improve minority children's mathematics education.  He also speaks about his experiences in the movement and his lessons.  He shows people how they can be involved in their communities and change the world; he says, to make a difference in the world, it doesn't take a lot, but simply looking to oneself, “It [takes] looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can I do?’” 

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