Hollis Watkins

Hollis Watkins was born in Lincoln County, Mississippi, the youngest of twelve. He grew up in deep poverty in a time when segregation was enforced with constant ferocity. His father eked out a living as a sharecropper, and by the age of eight he had learned many aspects of farming, with his first job as a water boy, bringing water to his family members as they toiled in the fields. His family survived very hard times, sometimes living on game—deer, rabbits or squirrels. They would chop cotton, pick cotton, or cut wood, anything to put food on the table. After attending Toogaloo College Watkins made his way to California, but was drawn back to Mississippi in the early 60s by the Civil Rights Movement, despite its dangers. Always, he questioned racism and why it existed. In 1961 he started attending the youth chapter of the NAACP, and met Bob Moses, the legendary Civil Rights leader. Watkins became involved with voter registration drives led by Mr. Moses. He was a leader in the fight to integrate the local public library, and was involved in the struggle to integrate the Woolworth’s in McComb, MS, for which he got arrested, spending thirty days in jail. Possessed of a powerful will and a sense of fearlessness, he sought to imbue that fighting spirit in others, starting the Pike County Non Violent Direct Action Committee. This group attempted to integrate the public schools, and started one of the first Freedom Schools in 1961. His activism earned the attention of the local (and very active) KKK, who tried to get his father to get him to back off. That did not happen! Watkins, though a believer in the principles of non-violence, was no pushover, and an expert with guns and knives. He was part of a system of self-defense organized by farmers to protect their families, similar to the Deacons for Defense of Louisiana. Later Hollis worked in Hattiesburg, MS on civil rights campaigns. In 1989 he founded the Southern Echo, a Jackson, MS-based organization that trains Civil Rights activists. Its mission is to build cadres of new leaders. Mr. Watkins has been an activist for over fifty years, his courage and steely determination for justice an inspiration for all.