History of Southern Echo

Hollis Watkins was attracted to Civil Rights work in the early 1960s, becoming one of the first Mississippians to join the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He worked with SNCC leader Bob Moses organizing communities around the state. When it seemed that the Civil Rights Movement was burning out in Mississippi, Watkins wanted to give people the tools they needed to continue addressing issues that concerned them — like farm subsidies, voting, and public education. He enlisted Leroy Johnson, an activist who had extensive experience developing community education, environmental and cultural programs during his time at Rural  Organizing and Cultural Center (ROCC) and Mississippi Action for Community Education and Mike Sayer, an attorney who had directed field services and community projects and trained elected officials for MACE, to help him take the lessons he had learned from the Civil Rights Movement to build a community organizing organization. Johnson, a Holmes County native, suggested that the organization focus its efforts in the Delta — where poverty and racism conspired daily to crush the souls of Black folks. During the past 29 years, Southern Echo has become an organization that empowers the  descendants of enslaved African people and is unparalleled in its community organizing ability.

(Pictured from Left to right Leroy Johnson, Hollis Watkins and Mike Sayer )

Southern Echo was founded in 1989 to build the capacity of African American communities to form a network of new, accountable grassroots leaders and community organizations, on an inter-generational model. Southern Echo provided training, technical and legal assistance. The primary goal was to empower the community to impact the formation and implementation of public policy. These are some of the accomplishments:

Following the 1990 Census, Southern Echo created the Mississippi Redistricting Coalition at the state level and the Delta Redistricting Working Group at the county level. These coalitions provided training and legal assistance in connection with the redistricting of the congressional, legislative, and numerous county boards of supervisors and helped to involve hundreds of grassroots citizens in the public hearings and drawing of redistricting plans.


In 1991 African Americans won 30 percent of the County Board of Supervisor seats, the most powerful local office in Mississippi.


In the 1992 election an historic turnout of black voters doubled the size of the Legislative Black Caucus from 21 to 42 in one election. As of 2018, there were 50 Caucus members.


In 1992 Southern Echo began to organize around the fight to create a quality first-rate public education accessible to all children.


In 1995 the Mississippi Legislature ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery, an important symbolic victory in a culture rooted in symbolism.


From 1995-1997 grassroots community groups across the state and the Legislative Black Caucus defeated every statute, referendum and proposed constitutional amendment by conservatives who sought to undo the impact of the redistricting process at the state and county levels.


In 1997 the Legislature adopted the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) in an effort to bring equity to the funding of public education. The legislature appropriated $650 million dollars over 5 years, the largest education appropriation in the state’s history. The conservative anti-education Governor vetoed the bill. A united Legislative Black Caucus, with support from African American communities, led the fight to override the veto, which prevailed in the state Senate by one vote and in the state House by three votes.


From 1998 to 2000 the Legislature appropriated major teacher pay raises and passed legislation to create state standards for student achievement and state accountability standards for school boards, superintendents, supervisors and teachers.

1998 - 2000

SE launched an Intermediary Support Organization (ISO) program funded by C. S. Mott Foundation to provide technical assistance and training to organizations in 8 southeastern states in the areas of community organizing and organizational infrastructure.

1999 - 2014

In 2004 and 2005 the Legislature adopted two Juvenile Justice Reform Acts that were crafted by the recently-formed MS Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse, a broad-based coalition in which Southern Echo and grassroots organizations from the Delta were integrally involved.

2004 - 2005

In 2004 Southern Echo and grassroots organizations in the newly-formed MS Delta Catalyst Roundtable built a broad-based education stakeholders alliance to defeat the conservative Governor’s education packages that were designed to drastically slash public education funding, supported public funding of private schools and privately-owned, privately-governed charter schools, and which sought to weaken the capacity of the MS Dept. of Education to hold local school districts accountable to state education standards.


In 2006 Southern Echo and the Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable Organizations officially became a member of the Marguerite Casey Foundation's Equal Voice Network.


In 2006 the MS Dept. of Education created its Department of Dropout Prevention and in 2007 launched its statewide Dropout Prevention Program in which parents and students could participate at the local school district level on the dropout prevention teams.


In 2007 the Legislature fully-funded the MS Adequate Education Program for the first time and did so again in 2008.

2007 - 2008

In 2009 The Children First Act  was signed by Gov. Barbour.  As a part of this Act, legislators mandated the creation of P-16 Councils. In 2011 MS Department of Education and Southern Echo drafted and agreed upon guidelines for the P16 Community Engagement Councils (P-16).

2009 & 2011

SE organized and trained community grassroots organizations to get others interested and to participate in the 2010 Census.


Following the 2010 Census, SE trained and organized community grassroots individuals and  organizations to be a part of the redistricting process.


The MS State Legislature passed the public charter school law. 


SE engaged communities from across the state to participate and make their voices heard as a part of the MS Consolidated (ESSA) State Plan.

2016 - 2018

SE engaged grassroots organizations within the southern region in trainings around Connecting the Dots between Voting, Census and Redistricting.


MS Consolidated (ESSA) State Plan approved by USDOE and MS State Board of Education which included some of SE’s and communities' recommendations.


SE raised awareness, organized and educated communities from across the state to defeat the rewrite of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) – HB957.  (SE educated community on the potentially dangerous impact of HB957.)


1350 Livingston Lane

Jackson, MS 39213

(601) 982-6400

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