Activist remembers Tougaloo 9 protest
By Mary Kathryn Carpenter
The Natchez Democrat
NATCHEZ — Nine black Tougaloo Christian College students walked into a library 53 years ago with a purpose in mind.
Those nine planned to integrate the library in Jackson.
Geraldine Hollis, a Natchez native, was one of those nine, and has never regretted her decision to try to open the doors of knowledge for people of all cultures, because reading is close to her heart, and it was a joy she wanted to share with others.
“I didn’t participate just to integrate the library in Jackson,” Hollis said. “Reading was my passion. It let me know what was happening outside of Natchez, outside of Mississippi, what was happening in communities I wanted to live in. That’s what education does for you. It lets you see and dream of a better life that you can achieve if you have the mind and the will to do it.”
Hollis spoke to a group of community members Thursday afternoon at the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture museum about her life and work as a civil rights activist.
In Natchez, Hollis said she was limited to a small, segregated library and didn’t have many books to gratify her thirst for knowledge on history.
“I think, along with my friend, we read all of the books in that library,” Hollis said. “I believe that if you don’t know your history, you are destined to repeat it.”
When she left Natchez, Hollis began working on a plan to change history.
Hollis and nine other students planned a sit-it in the Jackson Municipal Library on March 27, 1961, that would alter history in Mississippi.
“The position I found myself in in 1961 was not an easy task,” Hollis said. “It was not something I had really planned for myself, but because of life’s circumstances and challenges, I did.”
The Tougaloo 9, the name the group of students were given by members of the media at the time, was the first group in Mississippi to successfully integrate a public facility.
In planning the sit-in, the group had to decide that everything they risked was worth it.
“We put our lives, careers, the very education we were seeking on the line,” Hollis said. “Our families and livelihoods were threatened. I was not happy about it, but I did it anyway.”
Hollis ended up going to jail for her actions, but she believed it was worth it.
“What we did was not simple, it was not easy and it is not something to be taken for granted,” Hollis said. “But it was something that made a difference. Oh what a difference it made.”
Darrell White, the director of NAPAC, credited the Tougaloo 9 with a great impact in the Civil Rights Movement.
“There was a time when we had been forbidden to read and write,” White said. “In March of 1961, nine young college students decided to challenge the system. They did not want to be denied the access of knowledge. They decided to go and sit in and read a book in a white-only library. They were arrested and taken to jail. These sacrifices opened the doors that allowed us all to freely go to the library, pick up a book and read.”