Donna Leslie-Dennis
(Donna McKeller)

SNCC, Mississippi, 1965
4747 Matney Ave.
Long Beach, CA 90807
Phone: 562-234-2840

The Southern Baptists inspired me to become a civil rights activist. They didn't mean to. of course. I was supposed to become a hypocrit like them, talking brotherhood and acting like a racist, but I was naive enough to believe the brotherhood stuff and shocked to see that they didn't. When I asked my minister what he would do if a black person came to our church and he said he wouldn't let them in because they would only be trying to make trouble I knew I was ready to leave my religion behind.

By the time I was attending UCLA I was ready to actually do something to fight prejudice. I got involved with a group (I think it was CORE) led by Rick Tuttle and Bob Singleton which was doing voter registration in Watts. During the fall of 1964 Bob took me to a meeting where students who had participated in Mississippi Freedom Summer were speaking. I was so inspired that I decided right then that I wanted to go to Mississippi to help in any way I could. I sent a letter to the SNCC office in Jackson detailing my interest and qualifications.

Meanwhile I graduated from UCLA and started working in the SNCC office in Watts. Chuck McKeller, the project director in Gulfport, was on the SNCC Personnel Committee and read my letter and saw that I had library experience. He had a store building full of donated books and wanted someone to turn it into a Freedom Library. He came to L.A. to find me and a few days later we were driving to Mississippi. Soon we opened the library and had an afterschool program for kids. We worked on organising and running the library, voter registration and public accommodations testing. It was a very exciting and fulfilling time of my life and it made me want to learn how to do more.

Chuck and I got married and moved to New York and then Philadelphia so I could attend grad school at Upland Institute for Social Change (later Martin Luther King, Jr. Institue for Social Change) in Chester, PA. I did field work in community organizing and taught in public schools. We moved to Los Angeles in 1970 where our son, David, was born. We divorced in 1983. I taught school in Long Beach, CA for 30 years and retired in 2002. I am currently married to my second husband, grandmother to 3 beautiful grandchildren and involved with various community, political and environmental groups and teach at a community center. I would like to re-connect with the people I knew in Mississippi and Pennsylvania.


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