Check out our Board Member Emeritus Hollis Watkins as he tells the story of Southern Echo’s founding.
“Southern Echo came about as a result of me making the decision to continue the work of the Civil Rights Movement after most of the people that were working in the Civil Rights Movement left the state and went back to where they came from, you know, after the 1964 Summer Project. For a while, most people didn’t know that I was still in Mississippi and doing work, so as people began to realize that I was still in Mississippi trying to do the civil rights work, they began to call on me and request that I come to the area where they were and assist them. Realizing that I couldn’t accommodate everybody’s need, I decided that one way I could further accommodate the needs and meet the requests is that if I started an organization or an institute by which I could train other people to do what it was that I was doing, so that’s what gave rise to the creating of Southern Echo was an effort, an attempt to have more people being able to do the things that was requested of me, therefore more would be done.
For the most part, we’re still fighting the same battle because the major things that we were looking at back then, we announced a project in terms of dealing with freedom schools and community centers. But the overall and overriding issues we were dealing with was education, workers’ rights, decent and affordable houses and voting rights. Those are the primary issues that we are faced with today was what we’ve been fighting all of this time. So for the most part, the issues today are the same issues that we were fighting then. You just got different people, different situations.
The main goal is to develop a cadre of young community organizers that would be willing and ready to go into the different communities and hopefully their own communities to help mobilize and organize the people in their different communities to make conditions better for themselves. You’ve got the repetitive process, which is one of the reasons that Echo very early took a serious look at the people that we were recruiting. We initially decided that we were gone start trying to recruit high school students – I mean, college students. So we went to most all of the predominantly black colleges in the area, talked with the students, find out what was on their mind and we found out that the high 90 percentage of them already had their minds made up, they knew what they wanted to do and was not gonna be a easy target to be persuaded to do go in some other direction. So we decided to lower the age level and ultimately, we decided that we needed to start working with young people when they were fifth and sixth grade.
Some of them had never been out of little towns before – to come to a place to listen to people talk about things that were gonna affect their lives, affect the lives of their parents. And also, they enjoyed themselves, singing songs and plenty of good food. And that was it. So as we began to talk about things, the other piece that was very important to that process is that we initiated a process by which everybody that came understood that in the small group sessions that we would have, they had to give the young people opportunity to speak and say whatever it was on their mind.”