Hollis Watkins has spent a lifetime in pursuit of racial justice in his home state. In 1961, at the age of 19, he was the first Mississippi student to become involved in the Mississippi Voting Rights Project of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
To address the leadership needs of the future, Mr. Watkins has pioneered an intergenerational model of community organizing that encourages the participation of young people on the same basis as adults, bringing them into positions of responsibility. “When I was much younger,” he said, “I got my strength from the older folks; and now I’m a little bit older … and I get my strength from young people.”
His dedication to community has been recognized by various groups and organizations including SCLC, Fannie Lou Hamer Institute at Jackson State University, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. – Mu Sigma Chapter, and the Magnolia Bar Foundation, just to name a few. He has received numerous awards and honors from educational institutions, labor, church, and community institutions in Mississippi and abroad, most recently the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award in Jackson, MS and the Century Award at the 2015 Freedom Flame Awards Gala as part of the “Bloody Sunday,” Selma to Montgomery Bridge Crossing, and the Voting Rights Act 50th Anniversary Commemoration in Selma, Alabama as well as the Trailblazer Award for Outstanding Community Development from Alcorn State University.
Mr. Watkins was involved in managing, advising and working on many political campaigns, including the 1967 campaign for Robert Clark to become the first African-American elected to the Mississippi State Legislature since Reconstruction, both Presidential Campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson, the 1986 campaign of Mike Espy who was elected as the first African-American Congressman, and the 1993 campaign of Congressman Bennie Thompson.
He played a major role in keeping the music of the civil rights movement alive. Having been sustained by music when he was hanging from handcuffs in a cell in Parchman prison in the 1960’s, he includes the musical traditions of the Civil Rights Movement into the struggle of today, making it part of his organizing and bringing its message to a new generation of activists.
Covering the Rainbow
- Highlander emeritus honors
- Workers Viewpoint, June 6, 1984 page 14]