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*Hollis Watkins was born on this date in 1941. He was a Black American Civil Rights activist and administrator.
From Natchez, MS., Watkins is the son of John and Leona Watkins. He comes from a family with five sisters and six brothers. Watkins attended McNulty Elementary School and Lincoln County Training School in Mississippi. He also attended Tougaloo College.
Growing up in the Deep South during segregation profoundly affected Watkins’ viewpoint of the democratic process in America. He was nineteen when he became the first Mississippi student to join the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as a voting rights organizer. He almost immediately learned of the danger to those who resist entrenched and unprincipled power. Watkins also played a role in keeping the music of the civil rights movement alive.
Having been sustained by music when he was hanging from handcuffs in a cell in Parchman Farm prison in the 60s, he includes the musical traditions of the civil rights movement into the struggle of the 21st century, making it part of his organizing and bringing its message to a new generation of activists. While he worked for SNCC, he was repeatedly arrested and jailed. Later, he served as the director of the Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Program of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives before founding Southern Echo in 1990.
Southern Echo, Inc. is a leadership development, education, training, and technical assistance organization dedicated to empowering residents throughout Mississippi and the Southern region to make political, economic, educational, and environmental systems accountable to the needs and interests of the African American community.
Southern Echo has organized and supported local redistricting efforts aimed at more effective Black political representation, carried out voter education and registration, and monitored election practices. Southern Echo has also resisted efforts to change the Mississippi constitution to roll back the progress that has been made toward genuine democracy. Hollis was the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi's redistricting.
Watkins also addresses critical local issues. Southern Echo has enabled communities to create environmental safety zones to protect communities from harmful land use. Successful community organizing has blocked the placement of toxic waste facilities and stopped agricultural practices with adverse public health consequences in black communities. Southern Echo also works with community leaders to develop an African American education agenda and to play an effective role in shaping public policy on education in Mississippi.
He Watkins played a pivotal role in the establishment of such innovative educational programs as the Indianola Math Games League. Watkins is the father of eight children. Hollis Watkins died on September 20, 2023.