NEW ORLEANS — Activist and educator David Dennis grew up in a place that he remembers as “the toughest” when it comes to the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement.
Dennis, who grew up in a small town in north Louisiana called Omega, is a well-known activist who played a big role in the fight for civil rights.
Dennis’ story is one of several Civil Rights Movement stories News with a Twist is telling as part of MLK 50, the yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
For Dennis, there’s a lot from his past that you won’t read in history books.
One of them is the little known fact that the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) trained about 40 percent of the 300 Freedom Riders who rode buses into the segregated South to challenge towns that were not enforcing Supreme Court rulings that made segregated buses unconstitutional.
And the people in New Orleans who trained the Freedom Riders? They were none other than Oretha Castle Haley and Don Hubbard.
Dennis went from Omega, Louisiana, to Shreveport, then to New Orleans and Mississippi to “really make change.”
“I decided that I wanted to go to Mississippi because it was changing the dynamics around the movement from sit-ins to the political action,” Dennis said. “If you want to really make change, where white racists to come after you, go into the politics. That is what the Freedom Summer was all about, and we were in Mississippi and people were dying.”
Dennis was with activist Medgar Evers just two weeks before his assassination.
It was during that time when Dennis gave a fiery eulogy following the death of his friend and fellow activist James Chaney.
“I get up there to see. I look down and I’ve got this prepared piece, and I see Ben Chaney, James Chaney’s brother, so I just lose it,” Dennis recalled. “What I said I don’t remember. In fact I didn’t listen to it for months. It just came from inside. It was a whole thing of building up. At that time I had a whole lot of hate for America, and I figured it out later to get back on track, but that’s what was going on in my head at the time.”