Dr. Joyce Ladner: Road to Freedom


Caitlin Gilligan, Maroon-News Staff

 Keynote speaker Dr. Joyce Ladner spoke to the Colgate community on Thursday, January 22 in an address titled “Freedom Summer and Beyond: The Roles of Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement.” Dr. Ladner, American Civil Rights activist, author, professor and sociologist, grew up in Mississippi in the midst of the growing civil unrest concerning race relations. She attended Tougaloo College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, all while actively participating and organizing civil rights protests with her sister Dorie and other activists involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

During her keynote address, Dr. Ladner reflected on her experiences with the SNCC during the Freedom Summer of 1964. In her opening remarks, she showed a black-and-white picture of her and her fellow students with Martin Luther King, Jr. from when he spoke at Tougaloo College. At the time, Dr. Ladner did not realize how important that speech was until as important until Dr. King became a nationally recognized hero.

She recalled how African Americans have been treated poorly and discarded throughout her lifetime. Dr. Ladner reflected on how she kept those who unjustly lost their lives in mind which, in turn, helped her focus on this activism. 

“I grew up with ghosts,” Ladner said.  

She told the stories of many African Americans she encountered on her journey, some of whom perished in their fight for justice and some of whom she is still in contact with to this day.

Dr. Ladnet participated in the the Freedom Summer of 1964 a movement in Mississippi to get the African American population registered to vote. Poll taxes and literacy tests were just a couple of the obstacles that African Americans faced. 

“You have to ensure that all people have rights,” Ladner said. 

Before the summer, there had been only 30 full time field secretaries like Dr. Ladner in the movement, and they lived in continuous danger. She spent a week in jail for trying to attend a segregated church. But the  summer of 1964 brought 900 students to Mississippi, strengthening their movement and their morale. Eventually everyone was retroactively registered to vote through a court order.

Dr. Ladner supplied story after story for the audience, ranging from her time in jail to the tales of hardship that others faced.

“I enjoyed hearing her candid memories of her time in the Civil Rights Movement,” sophomore Kaitlyn Ferrel said. 

Dr. Ladners’ keynote address elicited a standing ovation from the audience.