Remembering Dorie Ladner, Beloved Organizer & Veteran Civil Rights Activist


March 25, 2024

She was 81 years old.

Dorie Ladner, a Civil Rights activist and organizer, died on March 11 from respiratory failure, The New York Times reports. Ladner joined the Civil Rights Movement as a teenager in Mississippi, facing violence and discrimination head-on in what would be a lifetime fight for racial equality.

Dorie Ann Ladner was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on June 28, 1942, and grew up in the nearby Black community of Palmers Crossing. She was one of nine children and was raised by her mother, a homemaker who instilled in her the courage to stand up for herself and her beliefs. 


Ladner was inspired to join the Civil Rights Movement after the lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy—just 11 months older than Dorie—who was brutally murdered in Mississippi and his mutilated body thrown into the nearby Tallahatchie River. 

“I was enraged, but I did not know what to do with that anger,” Dorie Ladner told an interviewer years later. “His murder made me aware of my Blackness.”

Ladner and her sister, Joyce, had grown up in Mississippi and had endured the racial terror, segregation, and dehumanization of the Jim Crow South their entire lives. Family friend and local NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer Sr., who would later be killed in a KKK firebombing of his home, encouraged the sisters to get involved in the movement for civil rights. They joined a youth chapter of the NAACP in Hattiesburg, Miss., in 1959 when they were in high school. 


After graduating as valedictorian and salutatorian, the sisters would later join the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, while attending Tougaloo College, an HBCU in Jackson, Miss. Dorie Ladner would eventually drop out of Tougaloo to devote her time to activism. She led marches, sit-ins, and voter registration drives and even helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. 

“Dorie was a doer,” Freddie Greene Biddle, a fellow SNCC activist in Mississippi, told The Washington Post. “There was nothing that Dorie wouldn’t do. She went into all the areas that were tough and hard to be in. She was out front.”

In the late 1960s, Dorie Ladner worked with the Congress of Racial Equality and on anti-poverty programs. Ladner eventually moved to Washington, D.C., where she received a master of social work degree from Howard University in 1975. She worked for three decades as an emergency room social worker at the now-closed D.C. General Hospital.


Ladner is survived by her daughter, Yodit Churnet, four sisters, three brothers, and a grandson. Dorie Ladner dedicated her life to seeking justice, equality, and dignity for Black people in a segregated America. Her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for the freedoms Black Americans enjoy today and inspired others to continue the fight. 

“The line was drawn in the sand for Blacks and for whites,” she said years later in an interview with PBS. “And was I going to stay on the other side of the line forever? No. I decided to cross that line. I jumped over that line and started fighting.”

Cover photo: Remembering Dorie Ladner, Beloved Organizer & Veteran Civil Rights Activist / Photo credit: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post


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